A theory of access

Jesse C. Ribot, Nancy Lee Peluso

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The term "access" is frequently used by property and natural resource analysts without adequate definition. In this paper we develop a concept of access and examine a broad set of factors that differentiate access from property. We define access as "the ability to derive benefits from things," broadening from property's classical definition as "the right to benefit from things." Access, following this definition, is more akin to "a bundle of powers" than to property's notion of a "bundle of rights." This formulation includes a wider range of social relationships that constrain or enable benefits from resource use than property relations alone. Using this framing, we suggest a method of access analysis for identifying the constellations of means, relations, and processes that enable various actors to derive benefits from resources. Our intent is to enable scholars, planners, and policy makers to empirically "map" dynamic processes and relationships of access.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)153-181
Number of pages29
JournalRural Sociology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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