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Disputing the enclosures of digital commons (2): openness as counter-measure

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
21st June 2013

Excerpted from TOM SLEE:

“Capital erodes, alienates, and distorts efforts to build value on non-commodified sharing, and openness demands that capital is given unfettered access to the commons. Are digital commons and urban commons doomed to feed the hand that bites them?

Perhaps not. Among all the contradictions of the commons, Harvey identifies one that provides grounds for hope. The search for monopoly rents on commons “leads global capital to value local initiatives — indeed, in certain respects, the more distinctive and, in these times, the more transgressive the initiative, the better … It can even support (though cautiously and often nervously) transgressive cultural practices because this is one way in which to be original, creative, and authentic, as well as unique.”TNI Vol. 17: Games is out now. Subscribe for $2 and get it today.

Capital cannot afford to eliminate the uniqueness of a particular commons entirely. Harvey argues that this contradiction provides an opportunity for radical movements to build around urban commons, that the urban commons can still be “spaces of hope for the construction of … a vibrant anti-commodification politics: one in which the progressive forces of cultural production and transformation can seek to appropriate and undermine the forces of capital rather than the other way round.” Some would see the eruption of protest in Turkey, sparked by the redevelopment of a park near Istanbul’s Taksim Square, as an example of such politics.

In the digital world, limiting openness is one way to restrict the encroachment of capital and to maintain digital commons as alternative spaces. Like urban commons, digital commons can be spaces of hope, but only if the contradictory relationship between commons and commerce is acknowledged and addressed, if the destructive influence of capital can be limited, and if some of the accepted wisdom around digital commons is challenged — including the unquestioning acceptance of “openness” as a virtue.”


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