"Trespassers Will be Persecuted": Oil and Property Law in Ben Okri's "What the Tapster Saw"

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Rose Casey


A movement appears to be underway in certain areas of property jurisprudence to recalibrate property law for more equitable and life-sustaining ends. For many legal theorists working from a Global South, indigenous, or minority perspective, international legal frameworks seem increasingly receptive to reformulating laws regulating property ownership to better protect frequently dispossessed communities and sustain ecological, animal, and human life. Perhaps the most promising such example of a potentially substantial change to prevailing formulations of property ownership is found in the area of indigenous cultural and intellectual property rights. Since 2007, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has been working with indigenous peoples to establish greater protections for intellectual and cultural property, a process that builds on the belated signing of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on September 13, 2007. Similarly, from a land rights perspective, a small but not insignificant group of legal theorists has promoted a stewardship model that reframes the human-environment relationship by casting it in terms not of ownership but care. In these two related approaches, which counter the primary strain of at least four centuries of Anglo-American law and its international variants, property is neither something to be owned, nor an entity over which one might exercise exclusive control, but a mutually sustaining relationship between human and non-human actors. In moving away from the ownership model that is so closely aligned with liberal individualism, proponents of stewardship seek to protect peoples and environments that have been most threatened by an international property regime predicated on territorial acquisition and land alienation. Given that the beneficiaries of the Anglo-American paradigm of property-as-ownership are based primarily in the Global North, it is hardly surprising that the most vocal proponents of recasting property as stewardship have worked from a Global South or indigenous perspective.

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