By Quinton R. Arthur
The Department of Economics hosted a lecture on the concept of private property on Oct. 28 in the Auditorium Building, entitled Private Property is a Selfish Metaphor: The Rhetoric of Economics from an Anthropological Perspective. The guest lecturer was Professor Ralph Cintron of the University of Illinois-Chicago.
The lecture focused on the concept of private property. An example used to understand the concept in simple terms was “saving space.” When an individual chooses a seat in a movie theater, if they have to leave, an item is placed in the seat, such as a coat. This is to show that someone has claimed the space. Similarly, in Chicago, after shoveling snow from the street to create a parking space, chairs are used to show someone has labored for this spot.
However, when it comes to public space in an exclusive neighborhood or community, the lines are not clear. For example, in an upscale neighborhood, a question was posed as to whether or not citizens from outside the community can use a park. Legally, it is allowed, but socially, it is frowned upon.
The concept of private property is blurred and often outweighed in the eye of an economically opressed people, especially those experiencing gentrification. In order to save culturally unique neighborhoods, individuals can no longer hold on to the notion that space is exclusively theirs.
Cintron referenced the Humboldt Park neighborhood. The traditional Puerto Rican neighborhood is facing rising housing cost, foreclosures and festivals that are minimizing the culturally important neighborhood.Cintron argued that individuals looking out for their own prosperity only damages the entire community, and effectively puts their own self at risk.
“Having long-term representation is necessary,” stated Cintron. “In order for everyone to thrive, the emphasis has to be shifted from the individual perspective to a collective mindset.”
Cintron stressed harnessing “the power of the commons,” in which communities of people stick together to protect their land resources.
Graduate economics major Eric Paskey found the event insightful, as it highlighted issues being faced in the world.
“It is interesting to see how the dynamics of this concept go into play when you have a mass migration of people,” Paskey says. “Incidents like war and an influx of refugees really illustrate the point of this lecture.”
Cintron is a former fellow of the Rockefeller Foundation. He has written three books that won honorable mention from the American Anthropological Association for the Victor Turner Prize for Ethnographic Writing. He currently holds appointments in both the English, Latino and Latin American Studies program at the University of Illinois-Chicago.