Alienation and Appropriation

  • John Torrance


Possession, ownership and property are categories that enable a given distribution of things to persons and groups in a society to be identified at any particular moment. In a sense, the totality of such bonds existing in a society simply is that distribution—or better, what the observer or social scientist describes as the distribution is an abstract ‘map’ to which corresponds, ‘on the ground’, the aggregate of possessory relations. In addition, since what is described is a set of prescriptive assumptions of varying force and precision, such a description would imply a prediction, of varying reliability and exactitude over time, of what the distribution would be in the future. It would therefore define the relations to persons within which new objects would enter society through production, from nature. However, the social distribution of things is also always changing because they are continually passing from hand to hand. Many of these movements are merely interchanges of equivalents that would leave the overall pattern of distribution unchanged. Others are regular one-way movements that communicate directional flows to objects passing through society, even though at any moment the distributive map remains much the same. This may be because property is continually flowing from one generation to another as society renews itself by the replacement of its human parts; or because an inflow of things—say, subsistence items — is balanced by its outflow through consumption; or because accumulation is evenly spread, so that only the material volume of society expands.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 6.
    Cf. R. M. Titmuss, The Gift Relationship (London, 1970) especially pp. 75ff. Adoption provides another relevant example.Google Scholar
  2. 9.
    K. Polanyi, ‘The Economy as Instituted Process’ in E. E. LeClair and H. K. Schneider (eds) Economic Anthropology (New York, 1968) p. 128.Google Scholar
  3. 15.
    A. Harding, A Social History of English Law (London, 1966) p. 90.Google Scholar
  4. 17.
    J. K. Campbell, Honour, Family and Patronage (Oxford, 1964) pp. 187–9.Google Scholar
  5. 20.
    See F. Parkin, ‘Strategies of Social Closure in Class Formation’, in The Social Analysis of Class Structure (London, 1974) pp. 6–7 especially.Google Scholar
  6. 24.
    B. Malinowski, Argonauts of the Western Paciis (New York, 1961) p. 180.Google Scholar
  7. 26.
    M. Mauss, The Gift, trans. I. Cunnison (London, 1954) pp. 79–80.Google Scholar
  8. 27.
    Cf. the discussion in P. M. Blau, Exchange and Power in Social Life (New York and London, 1967) pp. 97ff.Google Scholar
  9. 29.
    See. S. Piddocke ‘The Potlatch System of the Southern Kwakiutl: a New Perspective’, in Economic Anthropology, pp. 283–99.Google Scholar
  10. 33.
    P. Ekeh, Social Exchange Theory (London, 1974) pp. 53fGoogle Scholar
  11. 35.
    e.g. M. Godelier, ‘Structure and contradiction in Capital’, in R. Blackburn (ed.), Ideology in Social Science (London, 1972) pp. 334–68.Google Scholar
  12. 44.
    E. E. Evans-Pritchard, The Huer (Oxford, 1940) p. 50.Google Scholar
  13. 55.
    A. W. Gouldner, For Sociology (London, 1975) Chs. 8 and 9.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© John Torrance 1977

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Torrance
    • 1
  1. 1.Hertford CollegeOxfordUK

Personalised recommendations