If you’re coming to the commons for the first time, it can be difficult to grok the idea because there are so many different ways to understand the commons. That’s because the commons is not so much a fixed, universal thing as a general concept describing durable, dynamic sets of social relationships for managing resources — all sorts of resources: digital, urban, natural, indigenous, rural, cultural, scientific, to use some crude categories.
Each commons has its own distinctive character because each is shaped by its particular location, history, culture and social practices. So it can be hard for the newcomer to see the patterns of “commoning.” The term commoning means to suggest that the commons is really more of a verb than a noun. It is a set of ongoing practices, not an inert physical resource. There is no commons without commoning. This helps explain why the commons is different from a “public good”; the commons is not just an economistic category floating in the air without actual people. There are no commons without commoners.
Getting a grip on the commons can be difficult, too, because there is no definitive canon of works. The particular commons that you inhabit and participate in will shape your view of what perspectives are noteworthy and explanatory. A commoner in Africa will see the commons in a different light than a European or an Asian or an American. Context matters. That’s why a universal, unitary “defintion” of the commons is problematic. The phenomena of the commons are so segmented and fractal — yet related!
As this suggests, there is no substitute for spending a little time exploring the commons from many different angles. The concept cannot be understood in one sound bite.
My website/blog tries to help by providing some resources for getting acquainted with the commons. You’ll find my blogroll to leading commons websites and blogs, a select bibliography, a college course syllabus, assorted reports, a listing of commons projects, and my various books and writings. To find more about a specific types of commons or explore a theme, click on the tag cloud in the upper right of the homepage, or search by a topic of your choice.
Here are a few items that can help orient you to the commons as a paradigm:
The Commons, Short and Sweet (two-page statement)
Eight Points of Reference for Commoning (Ostrom’s eight principles as seen by participant-commoners)
- Thom Hartmann interview with David Bollier, Part I (12:46) & Part 2 (11:53)
- How Does the Commons Work? (animated short, 2:33), Next System Project
- What Are Commons? (cartoon animation)
- The Commons (video overview, 3:47)
- This Land Is Our Land (feature film, 46:00), Media Education Foundation
- David Bollier talk at American Academy in Berlin, December 2012 Video. Text.
- David Bollier interview with Chiari Somajni (47:39)
- David Bollier interview with iRights (Germany) (24:37)
- Dave Rovics protest anthem, “The Commons” (video, 3:04)
Good introductory books include:
- Think Like a Commoner (2014), by David Bollier
- Patterns of Commoning (2015), edited by Bollier and Helfrich. Available free online.
- The Wealth of the Commons (2012), edited by Bollier and Helfrich. Available free online.
- Our Common Wealth (2013), by Jonathan Rowe
- Common as Air: Revolution, Art and Ownership (2010), by Lewis Hyde
- The Value of Nothing (2010), by Raj Patel
- The Magna Carta Manifesto (2008), by Peter Linebaugh
- Silent Theft: The Private Plunder of Our Common Wealth (2003), by David Bollier
- Governing the Commons (1990), by Elinor Ostrom
- Sustaining the Commons (2013), by John M. Anderies and Marco A. Janssen (free download)
- The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property, by Lewis Hyde
….but also browse the select bibliography here.
SOME FAVORITE ESSAYS
- Andreas Weber, “Enlivenment: Towards a Fundamental Shift in the Concepts of Nature, Culture and Politics,” published by the Heinrich Boell Foundation, May 2013. Here’s my summary of this remarkable re-imagining of evolutionary science, culture and commons.
- Joline Blais, “Indigenous Domain: Pilgrims, Permaculture and Perl” [on the underlying commons logic and unity of indigenous culture, permaculture and free software], in Intelligent Agent (vol. 6, no. 2), published by the Inter-Society for the Electronic Arts. Here’s my gloss on a brilliant analysis of shared patterns of commoning.
- Ugo Mattei, “First Thoughts for a Phenomenology of the Commons,” in The Wealth of the Commons. A profound meditation on the commons as a challenge to modernity and the modern liberal polity.
- Eben Moglen, “Anarchism Triumphant: Free Software and the Death of Copyright,” First Monday, August 1999. A seminal, insightful and witty essay on the commoning that lies at the heart of free software.
- David Bollier, “Commoning as a Transformational Paradigm,” essay for Next System Project, May 2016.
INTERNATIONAL EVENTS AND REPORTS
Some of the most focused insights about contemporary commons emerge from reports about conferences and workshops. Here are a few:
- Economics and Commons Conference: video and report of Berlin conference, May 22-24, 2013.
- International Commons Conference: video and accounts of a landmark gathering in Berlin, Germany, on November 1-2, 2010.
- The Asian Deep Dive (report from October 2012 workshop)
- The European Deep Dive (report from December 2012 workshop)
- The Commons: Prosperity by Sharing (report by Silke Helfrich et al., October 2010).
- The Commoners at Crottorf Castle (report from a retreat of commoners, June 2009), Parts I, Part II, and Part III
Greece: Ebook on commons and P2P: Πέρα από το κράτος και την αγορά: Η ομότιμη προοπτική(May 2014). Free download.