• University of Leeds

Environmental Challenges: Hierarchy in Property Rights

How does language help us develop our relationship with nature and determine the rights of access and ownership?

Environmental Challenges: Hierarchy in Property Rights
This course is part of the Environmental Challenges program, which will enable you to explore how people and nature interact, and earn 10 credits from the University of Leeds.

Why join the course?

Increasing populations and social changes are pressurising our relationship with the environment. Property rights are embedded in power structures and land management. This course explores the different ways that nature is perceived by different types of societies and the impact of property rights on natural resource management.

This course explores three approaches to the hierarchy of property rights, and applies these to environmental use and management around the world. It also includes advice on producing a policy brief for an environmental issue.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 7 secondsProperty rights and market-based exchanges of environmental goods and services dominate the way we govern social ecological systems. They are considered to be the foundations for the study of economics. But it's not the only way of relating to nature, and alternative paradigms are often overlooked or dismissed. It's not that one is wrong or the other is right, it's about having an awareness that there is more than one language to describe nature.

Skip to 0 minutes and 46 secondsI'm Professor Jon Lovett, Chair in Global Challenges at the University of Leeds. My role here is to guide you through this course. We start by exploring three basic principles, hunter-gathers versus agriculturalists, the hierarchy of property rights, and more people, less erosion. These principles will then be applied to a classic case study looking at power and rights. We'll explore how the values of the Tanzanian forests have changed in the last few hundred years from communal ownership to state ownership and then back to communal ownership again. We close the course with a discussion about language of nature. I'm joined by colleagues from the University of Leeds, as well as Abdullah Al-Mahri, a Mehri language expert.

Skip to 1 minute and 30 secondsAnd together we discuss how local languages are nuanced to describe the complexity of seasonal change. So how is nature perceived in your society? And what is the role of property rights in natural resource management? I look forward to hearing your thoughts and joining your discussions on the course.

What topics will you cover?

  • Recognise the difference between the perspectives of the ‘giving spirit of nature’ and ‘controlling ancestor’ in our perceptions of nature.
  • Understand the meaning of ‘reciprocity’ as a way of reducing risk in uncertain environments.
  • Be introduced to Elinor Ostrom who developed a hierarchy of different types of property rights.
  • Recognise different types of property rights and how they affect access to, and withdrawal of, natural resources.
  • Appreciate the need for flexible property rights in areas with dynamic ecologies.
  • Be introduced to the contrasting arguments of Thomas Malthus and Ester Boserup on population and agricultural production.
  • Understand the concept of ‘more people, less erosion’ when higher population densities lead to better land management.
  • Recognise the links between property rights and level of biodiversity in agriculture.
  • Understand how ‘historical institutionalism’ of past laws affects current legal rights to natural resources.
  • Appreciate the social asymmetries caused by the power to control access to natural resources.
  • Recognise the importance of language for describing local systems of natural resource management.

Who is this accredited by?

The CPD Certification Service
The CPD Certification Service:

This course has been accredited by the CPD Certification Service, which means it can be used to provide evidence of your continuing professional development.

When would you like to start?

Most FutureLearn courses run multiple times. Every run of a course has a set start date but you can join it and work through it after it starts. Find out more

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What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Explain the difference in perceptions of nature between hunter-gatherers and agriculturalists.
  • Explore the different 'bundles' of access rights associated with natural resource ownership, as described by Ostrom.
  • Discuss Boserup’s theory that greater population densities can lead to improved land management.
  • Summarise a key environmental issue and produce a briefing note appropriate for decision making.

Who is the course for?

The course is suitable for anyone with a general interest in environmental decision-making; no previous knowledge or experience is required.

If you are working in environmental management, or wish to learn more about it, this course is designed to support you as a professional. By completing all aspects of the course you will have achieved 14 hours of CPD time.

Who will you learn with?

Jon Lovett is Chair in Global Challenges in the School of Geography at the University of Leeds and works on institutional economics.

Who developed the course?

University of Leeds

As one of the UK’s largest research-based universities, the University of Leeds is a member of the prestigious Russell Group and a centre of excellence for teaching.

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