Course Information

Course Number




Advanced Topics: Real Property

This seminar examines the concept of real property, its social and economic construction, and how it affects human welfare: What does it mean—philosophically, socially, and economically—to own a piece of land? How is landownership established? Who should decide how land is used? In fact, how should it be used? The course initially approaches these questions from a theoretical perspective, discussing certain foundational texts in social philosophy and economic theory. In particular, it probes the limits of economic reasoning in understanding property institutions, and examines whether—and how—we can compensate for these limitations by introducing social, cultural and moral elements into our analysis. Another central issue is whether, and to what extent, real property regulation should be “decentralized”: state regulation versus communal self-governance, laws versus social norms.

It then applies these general theoretical arguments to a variety of empirical settings: American land use regimes, particularly zoning ordinances and regulations; contemporary land use regulations in several foreign countries, covering Continental Europe, East Asian, and Latin America; and historical land institutions in early modern Western Europe and East Asia. By emphasizing a comparative and historical approach, the course attempts to highlight the social and cultural assumptions underlying many traditional theories of landownership and utilization.

There is no final examination for this course. Grades are computed on the basis of in-class participation and a final research paper. Students who wish to satisfy degree writing requirements through this course should discuss that possibility with the instructor.

Please note that course organization and content may vary substantially from semester to semester and descriptions are not necessarily professor specific. Please contact the instructor directly if you have particular course-related questions.