New collaborative research centre in Erfurt and Jena is dedicated to questions of ownership

The Friedrich Schiller University Jena will host the opening conference of the new Collaborative Research Centre/Transregio (SFB) 294 „Structural Change of Property“ on 8/9 July. The SFB started work at the universities of Jena and Erfurt at the beginning of the year and is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG).

Researchers from sociology, political science and history, philosophy, law and economics, Chinese and South Asian studies and religious studies are investigating the structural change of property in 23 sub-projects. Thematically, the Collaborative Research Centre deals with the history of property since antiquity, with current conflicts over property as well as with future property relations and alternatives to private property. Research is conducted not only in the European context, but also in India, China and Brazil, for example. According to the three speakers Hartmut Rosa, Silke van Dyk and Tilman Reitz, the future structures of property will undoubtedly be negotiated on a global scale. At the opening conference, the researchers will discuss present and future property relations with guests from academia, practice and the media.

The initial diagnosis of the interdisciplinary research network is that disputes about the form, meaning, distribution and obligation of property will clearly gain in intensity in the coming years.

„This is not just about the distribution of income and assets, but about a wide range of issues, such as the ownership of data, of gene sequences, of global resources up to the wind and raw materials on the moon, the question of who owns the city, or whether bodily organs can be property,“ says Hartmut Rosa, the spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Centre. The Berlin citizens‘ initiative Deutsche Wohnen & Co expropriate for the socialisation of large real estate companies, but also the attempt by the German government to protect key industries from Chinese access and even nationalise them if necessary, are just two current examples of the disputes to be expected, he says. At the same time, the researchers observe that what it means to own property is changing:

„The dominant idea of ownership implies that the owner can dispose of his property and shape it, but also that he has to take care of it. Today, when residential property is acquired by large real estate funds and often resold in a fraction of a second, owners who hold shares in the funds generally do not know what they own, and tenants do not know to whom they pay the rent. This changes the character of what property is and means,“ explains Silke van Dyk, co-speaker of the SFB. Similar shifts can be observed when, for example, music titles or literary products can not only be multiplied arbitrarily and free of charge via digital means, but when they are no longer acquired as personal property at all, but are only used or ’streamed‘ temporarily.

„Then ownership of cultural products is replaced by technical access rights. This also changes the character of ownership,“ explains Tilman Reitz, also a co-speaker. In any case, after decades of partly aggressive and global privatisation of property in almost all economically relevant areas, up to and including water and wind, political and also technical counter-tendencies can now be observed everywhere. These not only bring about new forms of ownership, which are reflected for example in diverse forms of sharing economies or commons, but have also set in motion a worldwide reflection on alternatives to the property form of society.

Interested parties can follow the event online (identification code: SFB_294):

The speakers of the SFB are also available for individual interviews (contact: koordination.sfb-eigentum(at)

New Collaborative Research Centre of the Universities of Erfurt and Jena explored the structural change of property

The German Research Foundation (DFG) is funding a new major scientific project at the University of Erfurt and the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena: As the DFG announced today, the Collaborative Research Centre/Transregio „Structural Change in Property“ at the two Thuringian universities will be supported with up to ten million euros over the next four years. The consortium brings together researchers from the social sciences, law, economics and history and will begin its work in January 2021.

The report on social inequality, which the international aid organisation Oxfam presents every year, shows a clear trend: while the wealth of some people is growing faster and faster, the vast majority of the world’s population has to get by with less. Currently, 26 billionaires own as much property as the poorer half of all humanity put together. „In view of the immense economic, ecological and technological challenges of our time, however, the concentration of wealth and the resulting property system is proving to be crisis-prone and highly controversial,“ is the assessment of Prof. Dr. Hartmut Rosa. The sociologist, who researches and teaches at the Max-Weber-Kolleg of the University of Erfurt and the University of Jena, is the spokesperson for the new Collaborative Research Centre.

In addition to this redistribution of wealth, completely new questions of ownership arise today, Rosa continues: Who actually owns the sunlight or wind from which energy is generated and sold? Who owns the genetic information of active substance-producing microorganisms or medicinal plants marketed by the pharmaceutical industry? Who can claim intellectual property rights in Wikipedia articles?

The approach of the new Collaborative Research Centre is to systematically analyse these questions and investigate the change in ownership structures. More than 30 experts and their teams from both universities as well as associated partners from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, the Free University of Berlin, the Technical University of Darmstadt and the University of Oldenburg are investigating the structural change of property on two levels: the change in the concept of property itself and the changes in social, political and economic structures caused by property. In addition to Prof. Rosa, the Jena sociologist Prof. Dr. Silke van Dyk and her colleague Prof. Dr. Tilman Reitz are the deputy spokespersons of the consortium.

With the new Collaborative Research Centre, the Universities of Jena and Erfurt are setting further strong accents in their respective research profiles. Under the title „Light, Life, Liberty – Connecting Visions“, the University of Jena is bundling its top-level research, with „Liberty“ bringing together the focal points of the humanities and social sciences, especially topics such as social change, contemporary history and Eastern Europe. The new Collaborative Research Centre strengthens this area with its discussion of the relationship between freedom and property and contributes to the interdisciplinary networking and further development of this profile area. Processes of social change through value and meaning concepts as well as different media and institutions are the subject of the University of Erfurt’s focus areas „Religion – Society – World Relations“ and „Knowledge – Spaces – Media“. Here the Collaborative Research Centre brings a new thematic focus to the field of property.