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Nine Temporalites for the Commons

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
21st December 2012

Here I detail nine key discourses or perspectives that offer fundamentally different visions for the world. These can be considered counter hegemonic knowledges and temporalities, and indeed each one has a distinctly different narrative to the dominant hegemonic rationality. I do not argue that these are the only counter-hegemonic narratives that either exist or should be considered. These are merely the ones that I have uncovered from my research and which I feel qualified in articulating. Indeed, we need dialogue between diverse counter-hegemonic narratives, a process I call ‘meta-formative commonification’, and this is therefore also an invitation. In this next section I will thus provide a brief overview of the nine discourse’s narratives and temporalities, and how these connect with a substantive and long term vision for a commons oriented and nurturing world.

* Article: Temporalites of the Commons: Toward Strategic Vision. By Jose Ramos

In this first installment of this important ‘strategic’ article, we publish the key contextual material, with exception of the summary nine visions (which includes peer-to-peer), and the recommendations for a integrative commons approach. The latter will be excerpted in the next installment.

In the abstract, Jose Ramos explains that:

“This article explores counter hegemonic temporalities, exploring nine discourses for what they have to offer an emerging narrative and temporality for the commons. Using these discourses, historical dimensions of the commons, present issues, and future visions of commoning are developed. The article ends by proposing some strategic considerations regarding the timescales within which different commoning projects might be understood. The article offers a starting point with which to dialogue and debate the narrative and strategic development of post-capitalist commons-nurturing political economies and societies.”


From the Introduction

Jose Ramos:

“Our understanding of the transition from a world typified by commodification and intensive capitalism, as described by a wide variety of scholars (Applebaum and Robinson 2005), to a world in which a variety of commons are protected, nurtured and extended, is still very much emerging.

Visions for a commons-oriented world order are quickening (Bollier and Helfrich 2012). From the World Social Forum Process has come diverse voices articulating new commons-oriented epistemologies. Along with these are strategic considerations. What is entailed in building a commons oriented world? What are the themes, areas, and time dimensions? What comes first and will come second? What are the stepping-stones or pathways to that other possible world we wish to create?

This article explores these questions. To begin, we need to address the basis by which we understand temporality. This article therefore begins with a discussion on embodied cognition, in particular Santos’ (2006) idea of the epistemology of the global south. This provides a basis for legitimizing and appreciating counter hegemonic temporalities as sources by which we can construct commons nurturing narratives. We then consider some timescales within which to nest or hold plural conceptions of the commons and their enactments.

Theoretical foundations

Since the 1980s Critical Futures scholars have subjected projections of the future to critical scrutiny (Dator, 2005; Inayatullah, 1998; Milojevic, 1999; Sardar, 1999; Slaughter, 1999). They have contested deterministic ‘end of history’ visions, arguing instead for the idea that there are a number of alternative futures open to us, based on both the perspectives people hold and human agency/action. ‘The future’, as perceived by an individual or a group, is an expression of the discourses, worldviews, ideologies that people co-habit. Thus, futures are diverse as the varieties of ways of knowing and thinking people hold across the many communities that exist today on planet Earth. Such diversity challenges the cultural hegemony of a West-centric neo-liberal vision, and attempts to open the possibility for a dialogue of visions across diverse people and indeed civilizations (Nandy, 1992, p. 18).

Drawing upon this thinking, the ‘embodiment’ of temporality can be articulated as such. Diverse people from across the world see the future in fundamentally different ways. People’s consciousness of time and social change emerges from the cultural and geographic contexts within which they are situated. Consciousness is embodied through the everyday acts of living, working and loving that we engage in (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980). Whether this is embodiment via a sense of precise industrial time, embodiment via the sensibilities of cyclic agricultural time, embodiment through science mediated evolutionary time, the body as the vehicle of the self provides the ground within which time emerges.

Today’s hegemonic rationality is expressed through the oligopoly between the twin ideologies of market and state, which define what is considered reasonable, rational, sensible and intelligible. Today, our form of hegemonic rationality is expressed through the logic of industrial development, the absolute sovereignty of the state, the capitalist market system, economic globalization, private ownership and accumulation, consumerism and individualism. While there are many perspectives and knowledge systems that differ fundamentally from today’s hegemonic rationality, they are not given equal voice and value in the dominant institutions of our time. As an expression of hegemonic rationality, you might then say that there’s also a hegemonic temporality. That is to say that, there is a dominant narrative, which offers an explanation for how we got to where we are, where we are now, and where we are going (or should go).

In brief, the economic story goes somewhat like this. Before the development of a market system, people lived in conditions of serfdom and economic oppression. Markets freed men to do business and provide value for each other, enabling economic freedom and fostering wealth. Today, our wealth and development can be attributed to enterprising minds who established innovative businesses drawing on emerging science and technology (Campbell, 1997). For-profit businesses, like Google, Microsoft, Apple computers, and others, are the greatest forces for wealth creation and development. The capitalist system is indispensable for the future development of human societies, and will continue to provide disruptive breakthrough innovations.

The statist narrative, on the other hand, goes somewhat like this. Before the modern nation state, empires and kingdoms were perpetually at war, exerting power with impunity. The innovation of the modern state allowed for stable borders, the enfranchisement of citizens, human rights and democratic representation. It requires a monopoly on violence. As the primary and most powerful organizational form in the global political arena, it is the most legitimate actor and has the ultimate right to represent and define interstate relations. State power will continue to produce development, human rights and security, and will be a primary feature into the future.

The twin narratives of market and state are partially true. And there are also contradictions. Yet hegemonic temporality structures the way we understand the rationality of how we have come to be who we are, and where we are going. Hegemonic temporality thus obscures, sidelines or makes invisible a whole number of other temporalities, and ways that people understand their pasts, presents and futures. It obscures many histories that exist, that contradict hegemonic temporality’s version of the past. For example, the West’s colonial role in the deliberate de-development of the non-West (Marks, 2002; Ramos, 2010; Sardar, et al, 1993). It sidelines the many varieties of actors and agents of change, privileging the businessman inventor-innovator as the vanguard of change, or the state-political leader. Women’s movements and leaders, peace activists, organic intellectuals, labor leaders, peer-to-peer producers, and others, are left by the wayside. Hegemonic temporality highlights the spheres of economy and state as the primary ontological structures, making invisible a number of other important structures: gender, class, species, ethnicity, networks, ethics and morality, etc. Hegemonic temporality, moreover, makes alternative visions of the future look absurd, impossible, unintelligible, or illogical. Visions for a commons oriented world, within the language and logic of hegemonic temporality, are rendered irrational, impossible and inconceivable. Inayatullah asks in this vein ‘which scenarios make the present remarkable’, ‘unfamiliar’, ‘strange’ or ‘denaturalize it’ (Inayatullah, 1998, pp. 818-819). If the world at the present is experiencing ecological destruction, gross inequality and conflict, is it still justified as a necessary sacrifice for a better future, the inevitable growing pains of ‘progress’, ‘modernization’ or ‘advancement’? Therefore, how the future is ‘used’ is fundamental, whether the future represents one industry, one culture, or an elite group’s triumph (over others), who is erased from the future? Who is privileged in that future? And how is the image of the future being used to ‘colonize’ others (Sardar, 1999)?

Epistemological recovery

In part to deal with this problem, Santos developed the idea of the epistemology of the global south. Hegemonic rationality, he argues, engages in ‘epistemicide’ – the “mass murder” of alternative knowledge systems. The study of this form of epistemicide he called the sociology of absences. This is the study of how alternative knowledge systems, and by extension alternate temporalities, are relegated to dwarfish status or oblivion. I draw on his concept of the sociology of absences, to express how hegemonic ‘monoculture[s]’ make invisible or discredit alternatives, or as he writes: ‘The sociology of absences consists of an inquiry that aims to explain that what does not exist is, in fact, actively produced as non-existent, that is, as a non-credible alternative to what exists’ (Santos, 2004, p. 238).

Alternatively, the study of the recuperation of alternative knowledge systems, and by extension alternative temporalities, he called the sociology of emergences. Putting forward new practical courses, pathways and policies for social change requires new forms of legitimacy. The sociology of emergences is thus also about reestablishing the legitimacy and credibility of the alternative knowledge systems represented by the epistemology of the global south. This legitimacy can be reconnected with the idea of practical action, as diverse knowledges also reflect diverse modes of practical and effective action / existence in the world. For example, indigenous medicine as a knowledge system reflecting experience and efficacy, or permaculture or peer-to-peer practices as sets of ideas connected with existing and emerging practices and projects. The sociology of emergences thus addresses how present processes indicate or signpost alternative futures or changes, and relates directly to one of the core concerns of this paper, envisioning counter hegemonic futures for the commons. As Santos writes: ‘although declared non-existent by hegemonic rationality – the sociology of emergences aims to identify and enlarge the signs of possible future experiences, under the guise of tendencies and latencies, that are actively ignored by hegemonic rationality and knowledge’ (Santos, 2004a, p. 241). Projects to document and make visible such trends and seeds of change, such as through the Peer-to-Peer Foundation, the Commons Strategy Group (Bollier and Helfrich 2012) and many other efforts (Ramos 2010) can be said to be in-step with such a sociology of emergences.

The legitimacy of the epistemology of the global south also rests upon its diversity and commonality. The diversity expressed, for example, through World Social Forums (WSF) in the struggle against neoliberalism is, it can be argued, in part representative of the world’s diversity, across categories of gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, class, and language. This can be positioned in comparison to the more narrow representativeness of the sources and vectors of hegemonic rationality of state and market. This diversity, however, is not antithetical to the formation of commonality among the diverse knowledge systems that coexist. While the epistemology of the global south is an idea that brings together many epistemologies that have run through the WSF process and alter globalization movements, this diversity does not just come together as a expression of what they are against, but as well what they are for. My research on the WSF and alternative globalization movement, (and in this respect it extension through the occupy movement), reveals that the epistemology of the global south (and the “south in the north”) is fundamentally commons oriented in characteristic. Or as Ponniah (2006) has argued, the overarching direction of the WSF is the radical democratization of major spheres of common life: the governance of economy, culture, politics, and ecology (Ponniah, 2006). Together this implies bringing back social goods (economy, culture, politics, and ecology) back into a commons-based system of governance, through its radical democratization.

The temporalities of the global south reflect a variety of narratives, of past present and future. Not all of these narratives cohere or overlap, as the diversity among them is great. Moreover, an exploration of counter-hegemonic temporalities should reject a unitary vision of time, opting for systemic-holographic coherence and sense-making of temporalities. Santos’ concept of the ‘ecology of temporalities’ thus address ‘the idea that the subjectivity or the identity of a person or social group is a constellation of different times and temporalities…which are activated differently in different contexts and situations’ (Santos, 2006, p. 22), [and challenges the] ‘monoculture of linear time, the idea that history has a unique and well known meaning and direction’ (Santos, 2006, p. 16).”


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