Property and property rights are essential to structuring and redefining economic and social relations, both at the local and at the transnational levels. Throughout history, its content and functions have been essential to the reproduction of the status quo. In other instances, it has been utilized to challenge the existent and promote alternative visions of the world. Therefore, transformations of property (its interpretation, performance, legal regimes and institutional arrangements etc.) must be read through their implications on the ground and the role of the different actors involved. In other words, property plays a central role in the construction of society and economic structures and such an interplay unveils an extraordinary research agenda.
Nonetheless, property is often perceived and described as stable, monolithic and unaffected by historical and contextual circumstances. In the legal field, property is still predominantly conceived and discussed in formal and static terms that ignore its metamorphosis and tend to naturalize (and even worship and sacralize) property regimes. The transformations of property and their effects thus deserve a more integrated (and challenging) analysis that consider historical, political economy, institutional and policy factors, as well as the roles played by the legal institutions and processes.
At a time of global value chains, foreign direct investments, urbanization and expansion of the digital economy, the functions, forms and substance of property are even more important in the allocation of rights and resources throughout geographies and people. Increasingly, functions, forms and substances of property are at the center of dissent and protest, with several instances where social, political and legal struggles aim to their redefinition.Moreover, conceptions and practices of property may crystallize inequalities and produce deeply disruptive societal impacts, but also facilitate forms of individual and collective empowerment vis-a-vis private capital and public authority.
The main objective of our international and multidisciplinary research group is to engage with these assumptions and construct a long-term collaboration among academics and non-academics interested in the study of the multi-dimensional nature of property and its transformations – first in contemporary Brazil and then throughout Latin and Central America.
In December 2016 we have launched a multi-disciplinary, interdisciplinary and diverse research agenda capable of combining a series of different research projects characterized by a strong theoretical underpinning, empirical efforts with specific attention to the proposal and refinement of analytical tools that may illuminate how, through what mechanisms and with what consequences properties are transforming.
The second step of our collaboration was an international symposium on ‘Properties in Transformation’ that tookplace at the CEBRAP, in São Paulo, on December 2017. The symposium represented a privileged entry-point to tackle the broad questions that motivate this project and a unique opportunity to share ideas and opinions throughout three days of brainstorm and dialogue.
The symposiums led to several spin-of projects and collaborations, in the spirit of the horizontal and multi-disciplinary character of the initiative. Firstly, the two-years project on Green Finance and the Transformation of Rural Property in Brazil: Building New Theoretical and Empirical Knowledge, which involves the University of Bristol and the Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP) and received the support of the British Academy and of the Newton Fund – by the Newton Advanced Fellowship 2017 RD3 scheme. Secondly, the book Propriedades em Transformação: Abordagens multidisciplinares sobre a propriedade no Brasil, an edited volume containing 12 chapters that were presented during the Brazilian symposiums and that are accessible for free online. Finally, the International Conference on Gentrification: Assess, Prevent and Challenge that will be organized in December 2018 by a consortium of several partners including FAPESP, University of Bristol, FICA, CEBRAP and CAIXA and that aims to create a South-South dialogue around the mechanisms, implications and responses to gentrification.
We are convinced of the timely nature of the overall project, which looks at a contested issue in a historical and political moment for Brazil where property structures, beyond local and national aspects and circumstances, have been increasingly under pressures from global dynamics (such as the demands of foreign investments in land and the increasing connections of finance and urban and rural property), at the same time Brazilian agents have acted globally to transform property rights (as in land acquisitions in Angola and Mozambique), and where Brazilian private and public actors are involved in international disputes around intellectual property rights or in the consolidation of financial products targeting land and the environment (i.e. Green Bonds).