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TITLE, STREAM, WHEN & HOW LONG Enclosures and Commons
ADOPTER(S) Anthony McCann (songcraft AT yahoo.com), Larry Reynolds (larry.reynolds AT lancaster.ac.uk)
FACILITATOR(S) Martin Pedersen (m dot pedersen AT lancaster.ac.uk) - enter your name here..


Background information

Is the commons a romantic idea? It is a place or a state of mind? Does it refer to circumstances of natural resources, or resources in general, or perhaps only to information? Should all of the world be shared, should it be shared in little bits? Is the concept of the commons counterproductive as a tool of resistance in the midst of hegemonic relations? Should the focus be less on the concept of the commons and more on the concept of enclosure? How might we ourselves be participating in the very dynamics that we seek to critique? Or reinforcing them in and through our critique?

“Simply declaring the existence or the desired existence of an "(information) commons" does not suddenly sweep away the political baggage that comes along with each of these issues. But it is not uncommon, consistent with the wonderful dynamics that any condition of hegemony tends to imply, that such issues are often conveniently swept under the carpet, shrouded in the mists of denial, or immunised against criticism by the blinding light of the best of intentions. Discourses of "the (information) commons" allow people to purport that they are focusing attention on the fundamental political implications of new technologies, intellectual property laws, free market economics, and American democracy without ever really taking any of those implications seriously enough to challenge them at base.” (McCann, 2005)

Read the rest of McCann's article.

Check out this interview with Iain Boal, author of the forthcoming book The Long Theft: Episodes in the History of Enclosure.

And visit The Commoner.

Sophisticated information technology is often helpful for maintaining a global culture of resistance, and simply for learning from each other, but for many it is a luxury. The realisation of commons - the creation of common/collective spaces - is often conceived as an opposition to the status quo: the demand for commons is often conceived as a demand for a reorientation. Away from profit through racist exploitation patterns, away from fossil fuel, domination and repression.

Is the commons an adequate model? An empty framework beyond capitalist and communism? And if it an empty framework, then how can re-imagine the work that we would like the concept of "the commons" to do?

What are you ready to share?

How do production, distribution and consumption differ from each other?

Do these concepts keep us focused on things, deflecting us from considering the character of our relationships?

Where are the limits of the commons and where does my individuality begin?

Is the commons everything else than the private?

Is there a space for private individualism, i.e., private property, in the commons? How do these concepts relate to each other?

How can the commons be governed? Is governance a problem?

Are many conceptualizations of the commons simply alternatively enclosing and hegemonic structures with good PR?

Is a model of enclosure more helpful for political engagement than a model of the commons?

"We as a [global society] must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered... These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. We in the West must support these revolutions.", Martin Luther King, "Beyond Vietnam," Riverside Church, NYC, 1967.

Consider the following:

"Due to the ideology-driven privatisation wave, the 1990s was essentially a lost decade for the struggle for clean water for all...Almost without exception, global water corporations have failed to deliver the promised improvements and have, instead, raised water tariffs far beyond the reach of poor households...While privatisation is no solution, neither is the status quo of often bureaucraticsed and ineffective, state-run water corporations which, in large parts of the developing world, fail to supply clean water to those that need it." (Belanya et al.(eds.) 2005, p. 9)


What follows is a long excerpt from Property relations in the knowledge economy: in search of anti-capitalist commons - .pdf, which is a draft that deals with philosophical/legal/economic aspects of common ownership, the by now classic fictituous/constructed "tragedy of the commons", and Roman law and ownership history.

"Elinor Ostrom (1990, 2000) has led extensive empirically based research work that complements Taylor's theoretical refutation of the N-Prisoners' Dilemma game at the heart of the influential stories supporting the neoliberal privatisation agenda, here in the words of Carol Rose (ibid; p. 106):

“Elinor Ostrom ... and her colleagues point out [that] there is no reason to think that the only forms of resource governance must come from individual ownership on the one hand, or from central governmental management on the other. [N]umerous examples of informal group property of "common-pool resources" far beyond Europe, from irrigating communities in the Philippines, to livestock-raising communities in Japan, to fishing communities in Turkey. Such communities clearly refute the idea that the commons is necessarily "tragic"; on the contrary, a number of these limited common property regimes have lasted in Tangible Space for centuries.”.

Ostrom has in her work unpacked the Tragedy of the Commons by investigating real-life commons where people sometimes for centuries or more have successfully constituted their own non-exclusive form of organisation. Instead of the one-sided idea that human beings are naturally self-interested and therefore must be coerced to cooperate, Ostrom points to future areas of research to better understand how resources can be shared. She confirms that free-riding is a problem, she admits that some people do indeed seem not to naturally cooperate, but that, also, many people happily cooperate on a voluntary basis. So, rather, the real life situation of the commons is that it is a not a tragedy and the problems that privatisation arguments invoke in this context are not as significant as they are purported to be: successful management of natural resources is not doomed to fail due to a lack of cooperative skills and does not necessarily require external, coercive authority. Human societies provide empirical evidence that no economic logic can refute or deny.

However, the collective work to undermine the idea that people can self-constitute successful governance models is not a done deal, as Ostrom writes with a careful balance (2000 p. 138):

“While these empirical studies have posed a severe challenge to the zero contribution theory, these findings have not yet been well integrated into an accepted, revised theory of collective action. A substantial gap exists between the theoretical prediction that self-interested individuals will have extreme difficulty in coordinating collective action and the reality that such cooperative behaviour is widespread, although far from inevitable”

Ostrom's forthcoming integration of theoretical and empirical arguments for and evidence of the success of the commons can be linked to lessons from cyberspace as well as to practices of and theories around social movements creating forms of social glue, and one may wish that such integrative work would constitute taking a baby step towards what we can call an anti-capitalist jurisprudence."