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Citations on the Commons by Contemporary Commoners

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
13th December 2012

Compiled by David Ronfeldt:

Jay Walljasper:

“The commons is more than just a nice idea; it encompasses a wide set of practical measures that offer fresh hope for a saner, safer, more enjoyable future. At the heart of the commons are four simple principles, which have been practiced by humans for millenia: 1) serving the common good; 2) ensuring equitable use of what belongs to us all; 3) promoting sustainable stewardship so that coming generations are not cheated and imperiled; 4) creating practical ways for people to participate in decisions shaping their future. …

“Private enterprise can flourish alongside a healthy commons sector. Indeed, a market economy would be impossible without commons institutions such as the legal system, corporate charters and financial regulations. And while government-run institutions such as schools, parks and emergency services are certainly part of the commons. So are Civic groups, non-profit organizations, community organizations, informal meeting places—indeed, any gathering of people for the common good is a crucial elements of the commons.” (onthecommons.org/12-reasons-youll-be-hearing-more-about-commons-2012)

Silke Helfrich et al. (?):


“Commons are diverse. They are the fundamental building blocks and pre-condition of our life and social wealth. They include knowledge and water, seeds and software, cultural works and the atmosphere. Commons are not just “things,” however. They are living, dynamic systems of life. They form the social fabric of a free society.

“Commons do not belong to anyone individually nor do they belong to no one. Different communities, from the family to global society, always create, maintain, cultivate, and redefine commons. When this does not happen, commons dwindle away – and in the process, our personal and social security diminishes. Commons ensure that people can live and evolve. The diversity of the commons helps secure our future.” (commonsblog.files.wordpress.com/2009/12/commonsmanifesto-engl.pdf)


“Commons are not just common goods or assets. They are not “things” separate from us. They are not simply water, the forest, or ideas. They are social practices of commoning, of acting together, based on principles of sharing, stewarding, and producing in common. To ensure this, all those who participate in a common have the right to an equal voice in making decisions on the provisions and rules governing its management.

“Examples of the rich variety of such experiences and innovations include systems for community management of forests, canals, fisheries and land; the numerous processes of commoning in the digital world such as initiatives for free culture or free and open software; non-commercial initiatives for access to housing in cities; strategies for cooperative consumption associated with social currencies; and many others. All of these commons are clearly forms of management that differ from market-based ones and from those organized by hierarchical structures. Together they offer a kaleidoscope rich in self-organization and self-determination. All are neglected and marginalized in conventional political and economic analyses. All are based on the idea that no one can have a satisfactory life if not integrated into social relations, and that one’s full personal unfolding depends on the unfolding of others and vice versa. The borders between the particular interest and the collective interest are blurred in a commons.” (blog.p2pfoundation.net/discussing-the-commons-at-the-rio20-peoples-summit/2012/06/01)

Jean Lievens:

“There are a number of important features that can be used to describe true commons. The first is that true commons cannot be commodified – and if they are – they cease to be commons. The second aspect is that while they are neither public nor private they tend to be managed by local communities and cannot be exclusionary. That is, they cannot have borders built around them otherwise they become private property. The third aspect of the commons is that, unlike resources, they are not scarce but abundant. If managed properly, they work to overcome scarcity.” (blog.p2pfoundation.net/debating-the-role-of-the-state-and-civil-society-in-p2p-theory/2011/03/04)

Michel Bauwens et al.:

“A commons is a shared resource that is either inherited from nature (and Elinor Ostrom, Nobel Laureate in economics, has documented the rationale and governance of such natural resource commons), or created by human beings, either in the ‘immaterial fields’ of knowledge and culture (this includes for instance free and open source software and shared designs), or by holding productive human capital (machinery and the means of production) in common stock. The commons is not exclusively defined by non-ownership and access, but by some form of common governance. Ostrom’s contributions were to show that it was the governance of the commons which protected them from the ‘tragedy of the commons’ that can befall open access resources that lack that governance.” (p2p.coop/files/reports/collaborative-economy-2012.pdf, p. 158)

David Bollier:

“The commons helps us see that we are actually richer than we thought we were. It’s just that our common wealth is not a private commodity or cash. It’s socially created wealth that’s embedded in distinct communities of interest who act as stewards of that wealth. Because the value is socially embedded, it can’t simply be bought and sold like a commodity. The commons can be generative in its own right – but the wealth it generates is usually shared, non-monetized value.

“We can especially see the generativity of the commons on the Internet, which is a kind of hosting infrastructure for digital commons. …

“Think of the hundreds of millions of photos on Flickr or the millions of Wikipedia entries in over 160 languages. Think of the more than 6,000 open-access academic journals that are bypassing expensive commercial journal publishers. Think of the Open Educational Resources movement that is making open textbooks and the OpenCourseWare movement started by M.I.T. Think of the hundreds of millions of online texts, videos and musical works that use Creative Commons licenses to enable easy sharing. Think of the vast free and open source software community that is the basis for a rich and varied commercial software marketplace.

“There are countless such digital commons based on peer production and sharing. In fact, the bestiary of commons is now so large and varied that there is what amounts to a Commons Sector for knowledge, culture and creativity.” (bollier.org/healing-logic-commons)

A. J. Fisher:

“Before I get into the fundamental requirements of a Sensor Commons project it’s worth defining what I mean by the term. For me the Sensor Commons is a future state whereby we have data available to us, in real time, from a multitude of sensors that are relatively similar in design and method of data acquisition and that data is freely available whether as a data set or by API to use in whatever fashion they like. …

“The access we are getting to cheap, reliable, malleable technologies such as Arduino and Xbee coupled with ubiquitous networks whether WiFi or Cellular is creating an opportunity for us to be able to understand our local environments better. Going are the days where we needed to petition councillors to do some water testing in our creeks and waterways or measure the quality of the air that we are breathing.

“The deployment of these community oriented technologies will create the Sensor Commons; providing us with data that becomes available and accessible to anyone with an interest. Policy creation and stewardship will pass back to the local communities – as it should be – who will have the data to back up their decisions and create strong actions as a result.” (ajfisher.me/2011/12/20/towards-a-sensor-commons/)

James Quilligan:

“In considering the essential problem of how to produce and distribute material wealth, virtually all of the great economists in Western history have ignored the significance of the commons — the shared resources of nature and society that people inherit, create and utilize. …

“… Whether these commons are traditional (rivers, forests, indigenous cultures) or emerging (energy, intellectual property, internet), communities are successfully managing them through collaboration and collective action. This growing movement has also begun to create social charters and commons trusts — formal instruments which define the incentives, rights and responsibilities of stakeholders for the supervision and protection of common resources. Ironically, by organizing to protect their commons through decentralized decision-making, the democratic principles of freedom and equality are being realized more fully in these resource communities than through the enterprises and policies of the Market State.” (www.onthecommons.org/beyond-state-capitalism)

Benni Bärmann:

“In my opinion, the commons approach, which we have discussed here repeatedly, meets all these demands. Conservatives like that it is conserving and community-oriented, liberals like its distance to the state and that it is not completely incompatible with market economies, anarchists like its focus on self-organisation, and socialists and communists embrace that it promises to control property commonly. The applicability of commons theory reaches to nearly all kinds of contemporary movements and commons play a fundamental role in all crises of today. Finally, there exists a multitude of theories around the commons, so we do not have to start from scratch.

“It is not essential that every single activist in every social movement can live with this platform. More important is achieve support for it through a critical mass of movements with as many different worldviews as possible. If this is accomplished, a new dynamic in the medium and long term unfolds due to productive relations between theory and practice. Commons-based movements also mix well with traditional multi-strategic movements.” (keimform.de/2009/the-commons-as-a-strategic-perspective-for-social-movements/)


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