The Transfer of What? Electronic Conveyancing and the Destabilisation of Property
In jurisdictions around the world, the previously paper-based practice of conveyancing is being digitised. The move to ‘e-conveyancing’ has attracted little critical attention and tends to be regarded as a mere change of form rather than substance. In this article, I examine Australia’s move to national, platform-based electronic conveyancing, focusing on legal and practical changes made in the state of New South Wales to facilitate that move, asking how changes in the legal form of property affect its substance. Using legal analysis and engaging with a range of interdisciplinary literature on materiality, I argue that these digitising reforms involve a new structure of governance for the transfer of property in land, which in turn has negative implications for the relevance of subject-owns-object theories of property and the status of the proprietor. Although the diminution of proprietor status is presently occurring in ways that bolster the power of corporate finance, the shift away from older modes of landownership nonetheless presents a moment of potential disruption to the political regimes they help uphold, and an opportunity to reimagine what property is and could be.