Scandinavian Working Papers in Economics

Göteborg Papers in Economic History,
University of Gothenburg, Department of Economic History

No 3: Thy neighbour’s property. Communal property rights and institutional change in an iron producing forest district of Sweden 1630-1750

Staffan Granér ()
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Staffan Granér: Department of Economic History, School of Economics and Commercial Law, Göteborg University, Postal: Box 720, SE 40530 Göteborg, Sweden

Abstract: This paper focuses on the development of property rights to village com-mons, as they appear in the court rolls of a legal district in Sweden in the late 17th and the early 18th century. A development of agrarian property rights, from comparably attenuated towards more exclusive and private ones, has been considered one of the most important and crucial aspects of economic modernisation. To explain and analyse this development two, not necessarily incompatible, theoretical approaches can be identified. The neo-institutional property rights approach focuses on economising behav-iour among individual agents in relation to factors such as enforcement and transaction costs, relative prices, market integration and contracts. A more sociological, or class based, property relations approach focuses on factors such as power structure, distribu-tion, exploitation and social networks. In this area the regulation and privatisation of access to commonly controlled woodlands and pastures plays an important role. Immi-gration, population growth, colonisation, and a rapid establishment of iron mills in the 1690’s, contributed to a commercialisation of economic relations, and to an increased scarcity of commonly managed resources such as wood, charcoal and waterpower. This put considerable strain on traditional local conceptions of rights. A significant part of the legal cases reflects disputes over rights to village commons and the resources that they contain. The long-run result of this process could be described as a kind of enclosure where communal and socially embedded rights were gradually redefined.

Keywords: Economic History; Sweden; Property Rights; Common Rights; Institutional Change; Enclosure; Forest History

JEL-codes: K11; N23; N43; N53; Q15

26 pages, November 8, 2005

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