Property systems are essential operators in the anthropization of environments. The transformations they cause or enable often contribute to increasing societies’ exposure to natural hazards. Conversely, historical research shows that some forms of ownership and inheritance law can help to avoid the occurrence of disastrous events, such as avalanches in mountainous areas. Central and local authorities have also long sought to constrain property rights in order to prevent the occurrence of disasters and alleviate their effects, for example by compulsory purchase or the restriction of individual property rights.
Taking a historic perspective focusing on the 19th and 20th centuries, the conference will explore the interactions between property systems, resources and environments, and the particular class of socio-ecological processes that is disasters. The concept here is understood broadly to include “natural”, “industrial”, “demographic” and “ecological” disasters. Property systems are taken as the whole range (individual property, public ownership, common property and commons, servitudes, intellectual property) with particular stress on the actual practices (technical, legal, scientific, enforcement, etc.) that underpin their existence and combine to make them operate as historical institutions.
Disasters, in their short- and long-term effects, reshape the operating conditions for private and public actors, enabling them to affect the distribution of property and its workings, i.e. its rules of acquisition and transmission and the rights it entails.
A disaster is an occasion for the transformation of property in ways that may have many purposes and motivations: economic, political, ideological. It is also likely, by design or chance, to produce, at a relatively small scale of space and time, an “emergency situation” for property as ordinary rules are relaxed or relief must be provided. Disasters are also a motive for action, often as part of public policy, affecting property rights in order to prevent a catastrophe in advance, or mitigate or repair its effects afterwards. These three aspects (opportunity, emergency, management) interact and overlap to produce a complex set of processes of historical co-construction of property and disasters that the conference will address.More details at H-Environment.