Against Institutionalism


This is a complement to Anne Haila’s critique of institutionalism in Chinese urbanism. This is understood as an extension of Ronald Coase’s transaction cost economics in urban space. The focus is well‐defined property rights which, extended to both urban land and intellectual property, allow monopoly competition and internalise public goods — whether social or environmental — into the logic of the neoliberal commoditized transaction. This (‘Washington‐Consensus’) notion of rights is contrasted to the blurred (‘Beijing‐Consensus’) property rights arrangements of today’s China. Here property is a ‘bundle of rights’, in which different legal persons have rights in the same unit of urban space. In this property is not well defined but instead a ‘boundary object’. I draw on Francois Jullien to describe such relational property, which is coloured, less by individualism, than by Taoist‐like relations. These comprise a long‐time horizon, an ongoing never completed, never actualized character of transacting or exchange. They comprise rights‐sharing, obligation‐sharing and risk‐sharing. Parallels are drawn with, not Roman and Continental a priorist, but with English a posteriorist notions of property.