Social Function (of land – of property)

Dernière mise à jour le 7 juin 2019

For Aristotle (-384 to -322), the concept of social ownership means that the individual property is facing a common use. Believing that private property was a need for people to take ownership of certain assets (and therefore respect, maintain), he felt he should not condemn private property (as did Plato), but every citizen owner should strive to make use of common property.

Many social movements, particularly under the influence of the major abuses of grabbing land that unfolds around the world (especially in Africa), now tend to question the very notion property, whether real estate or property. (Eg Social Forum in Tunis in 2012 – POLIS network in Brasil)

As a reminder, the meaning of the concept of property:

In many cultures, the property is a very different notion of what we know. For example, Native Americans believed that the property does not exist. They held no interest in the land occupied and used. They were only guardians, custodians. They could therefore neither sell nor assign or transmit it to their children.

In legal terms, the right to property covers several concepts (cf. Belgian law):

  • « The fructus » which is the right to collect the result of a well
  • « The usus » which is the right to use property
  • « The abusus » which is the right of property (turn, assign, destroy)

Thus, at different times and cultures, the concept of ownership has changed, or has recovered only some aspects of the legal definition. As reported by the website Rationalis Homo, « The concept of ownership is not real: it expresses symbolic human relationships, political, legal, which vary in space and time.

Definitions of the social function of property:

If Aristotle seems the first to propose a social function of ownership, other thinkers or philosophers after him have also defined the concept not always easy to understand. Here are three examples:

  • St. Thomas has written some literature on the subject and this could inspire popes, between Clement IV (XII century) and Pius VI (XVIII century) decided that if land remained uncleared, anyone could seed and enjoy a third of the land. In summary, **IF OWNER FAILS ITS OBLIGATIONS ON SOCIAL « PRODUCTIVE » FUNCTION IS REQUIRED TO COMPEL THE Y FOR PORTIONS OF HIS PROPERTY**.
  • Auguste Comte (1798-1857): the view that « the company should consider the property as a whole tends spontaneously to exceed the individual aspect of this property. It must therefore be seen as a social function to form and manage capital in which each generation prepares the work of the next. Property tends to impose obligations and not be defined as a simple law. « Thus, according to him, PROPERTY IS TO BECOME A LIABILITY (SOCIAL) RATHER THAN POWER.
  • Duguit Leon (1859-1928): great critic of law and great defender of the social function of property, he believes on him that the owner is vested with a specific social function: « The right of ownership, I deny, his social duty, I say.


Social movements engaged with examples from Latin America:

In some countries such as Colombia, Peru and  Venezuela, it is estimated that the property involves duties and it also has a social function. However, **Mexico** was the first country in the world that, in its Constitution of **1917** granted a social function to the property has subsequently adopted a number of amendments which have shown a significant decline. (UN-HABITAT)

Brasil, after a period of dictatorship, introduced its new constitution – the notion of social function of property (1988, Article 23.): « The property has to its social function. » A gap has been introduced into the hitherto absolute right of private property. It is a true legal innovation Copernican guy … (notice the Bishop Tomas Baldwin). Brazil adds an extra element to our test definition property rights is legitimate only if this property fulfills **SOCIAL DIRECTED MORE SOCIAL JUSTICE FUNCTION**. This is what has enabled the country to impose certain limitations on rural land: the well should not be seen primarily as a heritage, but also as a production well and uncultivated land can therefore be times not the Brazilian government. THERE IS SOCIAL FUNCTION WHEN THE PROPERTY MAY EXERCISE ITS FUNCTION PRODUCTIVE.

At the 2012 World Social Forum held in Tunis, representatives of social movements began to advocate and think to restore honor to the social function of property. Nelson Willow, the POLIS Association are reminded that this social function must be understood as the priority given to the common interest on individual property rights. Or more specifically : It is socially equitable use of urban space, so that citizens can appropriate its territory of democratizing its spheres of power, production and culture in respect of standards of social justice, and finally the creation of sustainable environmental conditions.


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