The social function of property, land rights and social welfare in Brazil


Attempts to democratize access to land have a long history in Brazil. Although initially focused mainly on the rural sector, in recent decades they have also gained some momentum in the cities. The central notion that has oriented these efforts is the so-called social function of property, which asserts that the right of private ownership includes an obligation to use land in ways that benefit society as a whole. This paper examines the development of this principle in Brazil in terms of both legislation and policy implementation and evaluates the criticisms that have been leveled against attempts to put it into practice. It argues that the social function principle has been extensively integrated into Brazilian legislation, but actual implementation has thus far been modest, especially in the urban sector. These efforts have been criticized on economic, environmental and cost-effectiveness grounds, but none of these criticisms is entirely convincing. Given the marked inequality in landholding in Brazil, the social function continues to be an important tool for enhancing popular welfare.


Political Science

Document Type





Brazil, Land rights, Social function of property

Publication Date


Journal Title

Land Use Policy