During the summer of 2017, I travelled throughout France. Now I am sharing the stories of the commons I met along the way, never knowing what I would find in advance. These articles were originally published in French here: Commons Tour 2017. The English translations are also compiled in this Commons Transition article.

The Assembly of the Commons of Marseille: a prefiguration full of promise

This new postcard will be sunny! If there is one characteristic peculiar to Marseille, it is its light. This is what I discovered by spending a few days there on the invitation of Pierre-Alain, a commoner with whom I had already communicated on the theme of the assemblies of the commons. That’s how I had the chance to participate in the very first commoner meeting of that region.

To get off to a good start, we began with a nice little restaurant on the Vieux Port, of course 🙂

It was an opportunity to get acquainted with about ten participants, and discover the diversity of their profiles and respective projects, from the association leader to the lawyer, through the researcher, the doctoral student and the company managers – the table looked like my idea of an assembly of the commons: a joyful mix of heterogeneous careers.

We then joined the MarsMedialab, a magnificent third space of 350m² in the heart of the city, to start the work session proper. The objective was very simple: to bring together the good will of the regions around the question of the commons. The problem was clear: what do we do with this goodwill? What kind of actions can this group implement? What structure should it have?

In addition to the people, the roundtable allowed us to (re)discover a number of emblematic national and local commons and initiatives such as:

  • SavoirsCom1, a collective committed to the development of policies and initiatives related to knowledge commons;
  • Ars Industrialis, a cultural association created by Bernard Stiegler, whose only regional branch is located in Marseille;
  • L’Office, a structure that accompanies the cultural, social, educational and economic transitions from a “digital society” to a “communal society”;
  • H2H, a software platform that supports the projects of the Hôtel du Nord residents’ cooperative;
  • 1DLab, start-up of the ESS (Social and Solidarity Economy);
  • Mnemotix, a cooperative smart-up working on data semantization;
  • ManuFabrik, a cooperative which is part of the field of popular education;
  • Pas Sans Nous (Not Without Us), an association that has given itself the role of being a union of working class neighbourhoods.

The exchanges were rich and very engaging. Those present were committed to making concrete progress in the local commons. But for a first meeting it was important, before discussing specific projects, to share a common vision of the group’s organization and the methodologies to be adopted to work together.

With this in mind, I shared the practices of the Assembly of the Commons of Lille, in particular the governance model that we have adopted in our collective which has been working very well for the past two years, stigmergy. With the support of Pierre-Alain, who is already convinced, I was careful to stress the importance of documenting practices to facilitate the inclusion of newcomers and promote transparency in processes.

During the afternoon, the specificity of Marseille’s dynamic appeared to me in two ways:

  • First, it seemed quite clear that there were two fairly distinct movements. On the one hand, the needs related to what could resemble an Assembly of the Commons: mapping the commons, creating a network, and on the other hand, very pressing and concrete questions concerning the establishment of an economy of the commons, which would be more like a Chamber of Commons structure.
  • Second, since the region is vast, it seemed obvious that at least two major geographical poles were emerging: a group centred on Marseille and its surroundings, and another anchored on the side of Sophia Antipolis.

What also emerged from these exchanges was that each of them was already well engaged in their own projects, so time was inevitably limited to invest in a new collective, which would make the assembly a form of “hub”, a chamber echoing each other’s initiatives. But the willingness to get to know each other and to create a true community by working together on concrete initiatives was palpable.

To sum up, after the meeting with the Grenoble commoners, this Marseilles exchange convinced me that the assemblies of the commons are very unique places of co-creation, in which we must not try to apply a centralized theoretical model, but welcome the contributory impulses in a dynamic anchored locally and respectful of the geographical and historical specificities of each location.

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