Summary: The concept of inalienable possession often figures centrally in debates about repatriation of cultural artifacts (which are also often artworks). The right of alienability (or the right to transfer title to property) is one of the core rights in Western property theory. If property is inalienable, this means that title to it cannot rightly be transferred. In this paper, Coleman analyzes the concept of inalienable possession, and argues that laws (such as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA)) can foist a conception of inalienable possession on indigenous peoples that can be inaccurate to past and changing cultural norms. She uses this point to offer a distinction between property and ownership. This opens up conceptual space for a link between objects and identity through ownership that might nevertheless allow for the alienability of such property.
Comment: This paper is best for a course unit that is making room for in-depth discussion of the property dimensions of cultural property. It would pair well with Janna Thompson's "Art, Property Rights, and the Interests of Humanity," or James O. Young's "Cultures and Cultural Property." It can be also used together with or in lieu of Sarah Harding's much longer and more detailed paper "Justifying Repatriation of Native American Cultural Property."