© 2023 The International Association for the Study of the Commons

XIX Biennial IASC Conference
'The Commons We Want: Between Historical Legacies and Future Collective Actions'
Colonial legacies and decolonizing the commons in the Anthropocene
Local institution-building and radical futures
The ignored commons in the SDGs
Conservation without environmental justice in the commons
Commons grabbing in a 'Glocal' World
Indigenous peoples's commons facing globalization
Challenges of urban commons and digitalization
Modeling the commons and advances in theory
One health and the public health systems as commons


June 19 – 24, 2023


Nairobi, Kenya



XIX Biennial IASC Conference

'The Commons We Want: Between Historical Legacies and Future Collective Actions'

The IASC has been shaping the debate on alternative development pathways by way of putting the commons center stage. In times of profound crises, we have seen states being caught up in emergency mode. This unfolds, among others, in a tendency to respond within national borders, and it has brought the importance of building genuine resilience that leaves no one behind.

In all its diversity, the African continent is particularly exposed to shocks, and the risk of losing decades of development accomplishments is conspicuous. Therefore, in the context of the pandemic, building resilience for a broad range of society has become ever more pertinent, but the framework conditions to do so remain under-discussed. The global IASC conference will open up a space to mobilize this very debate. Taking place at the University of Nairobi, but co-organized with Centre for Integrated Training and Research in ASAL Development CETRAD, the University of Bern (Institute of Social Anthropology ISA, Centre for Development and Environment CDE), and the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute Swiss TPH, Basel, Switzerland) and the Swiss Society for African Studies (SSAS), the discourse on commons and commoning will be prominently staged so as to broadly explore the contributions of the concept of the commons to build resilience in and beyond crises.

The conference provides a much-needed link to future-oriented research and practice perspective with a look back, since many legal and structural legacies predetermine possible development pathways. This reflection shall help to position the commons debate in the context of the Agenda 2030 and contribute to making the transformation towards the SDGs a more commons-oriented and participatory endeavor.

Conference Sub-Themes

This is also the reason for the title “The Commons We Want: Between Historical Legacies and Future Collective Actions”. We want to stress the topic of a participatory definition of the commons in different contexts and to raise awareness of the long history of colonialization and globalization processes influencing today’s commons and commoners. At the same time, today’s challenges demand more conducive thinking on collective action in the future at different levels and scales. These reflections led to the following 11 sub-themes.

Ranging from issues of poverty to climate change, biodiversity, life on earth, and life in the water there are many goals that touch upon the issue of common-pool resources and their sustainable management. However, the Agenda 2030 itself addresses primarily governments and not local communities who are owners of such resources under common property institutions worldwide, maintaining these for centuries. Furthermore, the SDGs also address investments in energy, agriculture, and infrastructure. However, these implicate the very processes that often lead to land and commons grabbing, thereby crowding out historical owners due to entangled legal structures regarding common property. This theme shall therefore convene panels focussing on how commons studies can address shortcomings of the global SDGs and create stronger and also gender-sensitive participatory bottom-up processes for a more inclusive implementation of the Agenda 2030.

With 80% of the World’s population living in urban environments by the year 2050, cities are both, a driver of unsustainable development as well as a primary locus for innovation and sustainability transformations. Framing urban transformations from a commons’ perspective could substantially contribute to connecting dispersed ideas and sustainability initiatives in cities. Fields to explore include improved quality of collective urban housing, re-imagining urban life beyond consumerism and innovate public spaces as collaborative labs to generate, utilize, and manage common resources with a view to urban sustainability. State intervention or quasi-privatization in management of urban space are of great interest to this subtheme. Questions as to who has the power to influence regulation and how implementation of rules is controlled reveal power relations in urban planning systems as well as relevant levers to make the urban commons flourish. Not least, mechanisms of exclusion such as by means of high-end urban green spaces for only a few, or gendered effects of administrative practices that mark urban spaces shall be illuminated and policy requirements for truly diverse and shared urban spaces shall be discussed.
The topic addresses present and future threats of the loss of the commons with a particular eye on the impacts on indigenous peoples. Often these are minorities (including hunter-gatherer communities and pastoralists) who, due to their pronounced dependence on common-pool resources are particularly vulnerable. The topic shall explore their strategies to cope and to resist those threats, including ways to extend common property rights beyond land towards a broader set of common-pool resources in cultural landscapes. Insights are derived from different ontological views on what the commons mean for these communities and the institutions they have created for the management of the commons in the past. Analyses adopting a gender-perspective or that inform the theme via an intersectional lens are particularly welcome. Regarding the current challenges in a “glocal” world, the theme thus looks at minority rights and genuinely local views on the commons innovate institutional forms of commons governance (including issues of mobility) in contexts of claimed self- determination processes to govern the commons.
This theme illuminates how colonial and post-colonial powers in the Global South and also areas in the Global North have shaped the commoner’s landscapes and their non-human environment. It addresses historical and contemporary forms of colonial power, including during different time periods of the Western expansion on different continents that continues to influence contemporary management of the commons (i.e. legal frameworks, framing of common property rights, misreading of landscapes as pure nature and/or un(der)used lands etc.). Against the background of what has been termed “the Anthropocene”, where human influence is deemed the dominant force on the planet, colonial legacies may appear in a different light. The logic of the commons, its role of genuine resource management and new methodological approaches regarding the role of power becomes ever more crucial for the search of viable development alternatives. The theme invites panels addressing nuanced concepts regarding gender, ethnicity and generation to inform narratives of the Anthropocene and to contribute to multiple perspectives in environmental and legal history.

Scholars within the IASC have a tradition to use different qualitative and quantitative methods to study empirical cases and theoretical questions. The theme shall inform on the latest developments in these fields such as applications of methods like formal models (including agent-based models and dynamical systems), experimental approaches in the lab, field and cyberspace, machine learning, QCA, institutional grammar, and network analysis to derive new insights for collective action and the commons. Diverse approaches exploring various datasets of case studies in systematic ways are also welcome.

Promoters of large-scale investments in agriculture and mega-infrastructure claim to spur development by productively using the land. This logic diverges from the interconnected nature of common-pool resources (pastures, forestry, water, local agriculture, fisheries, hunting and gathering) and the ways these are managed by local populations. Land-related investments that exclude a variety of economic and/or cultural and gendered activities of local communities are a serious threat to local food systems, gender relations and resilience. Many large-scale land acquisitions thus do not just lead to land but to commons grabbing, with a risk to reduce resilience in the long run. The theme asks for panels addressing this topic as well as diverse local responses to commons grabbing, potential shifts of gender relations and the identity as commoners more generally.
The Covid-19 pandemic has relaunched the question as to what extent we consider health a global common, and highlighted the role of collective action to overcome the crisis. The theme seeks to address the question about how authoritarian and democratic governments define health as a common good, duties and rights of people, and the role of the biotech industry. To what extent shall health services and/or health technologies be a common good? – How do we, for example, deal with the issue of development of a vaccine against COVID-19, and its fair distribution? How is inequality (with respect to geography, economic status, gender, race) reflected in such initiatives? Where is the responsibility to provide the means and resources to promote and sustain a healthy living – quality of air, quality of water, quality and sustainability of foods – across the diversely endowed global societies? Can health commons be managed at all as a public good in a global context?
This theme focuses on the relation of the digital world and the commons and discusses different forms of commons created by digitization. It also deals with potential and real ownership of technologies and information sharing, including debates on open source information and publication such as the creative commons (e.g. issues of various forms of participation, inclusion (sharing) and exclusion (licencing). Ostrom’s design principles of robust institutions for the commons are put to scrutiny, as are other typical commons themes: issues of maintenance, control (monitoring) and sanctioning. Digital technologies reopen debates on power, gender and control, on inclusion and exclusion. In addition, digital means enable access to information on common-pool resources via the widespread use of mobile phones. Papers in this theme will explore the extent to which information technologies offer new perspectives on the commons debate, and whether these add value to the core concepts and approaches.
Conservation efforts add to multiple pressures on land. The shift from conventional fortress to community conservation opens up potential synergies with commons theories and approaches. Perceived as a top down approach by many critics, community conservation seems to be no guarantee against what is called “green grabbing”, often affecting the commons. Institution building processes in the context of conservation, including world heritage sites often neglects adequate participation of the local population managing common property areas. Furthermore, conservation initiatives more often than not ignore the concept of cultural landscapes (as opposed to the view of «pure nature»). However, the supposed shift is not clear cut, and movements such as the “half-earth-initiative” (https://www.half- earthproject.org/discover-half-earth/) prominently try to revert more integrative tendencies in conservation. More recently, convivial conservation promises alternative pathways, including experimental approaches that develop and embrace local visions for conservation. In a context of multiple claims on land, this panel asks for the value added of various conservation approaches for the commons, examining their innovation potential in the light of a gendered environmental justice perspective.
Addressing findings from empirical data on processes in which local actors are able to define the type of commons and commons property institutions that shall be developed, this theme strongly resonates with the main topic of the conference (The Commons We Want). It focuses on theory and practices of building the capabilities to develop alternative futures. Furthermore, it addresses panels discussing new ways of perceiving resources and resource problems related to the commons. In addition, it calls for panels addressing the issue of power to engage in a more participatory way to develop local institutions in a globalized world, including all local actors (constitutionality approach). Question as to what the “we” implies, and how social categories such as class/caste/gender and generation are negotiated within a particular “we” are crucial. This theme is inspired by new theoretical developments in institutional and political ecology but also invites panels to focus on local experiments in resource management, distribution and conservation more broadly. Focussing on and learning from local experiments in this regard is an important feature to solve future problems of the commons.
This theme provides a platform for panels that present new advances in theory and framework development, including new discussions on policentricity, grammar of the commons as well as new trends in the Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) and the Social Ecological Systems (SES) framework. It also addresses new developments integrating the issue of power in frameworks and theoretical reflections (e.g. New Institutional Political Ecology (NIPE) framework, combining New Institutionalism in anthropology/geography and reflections on theories addressing power from political ecology). Furthermore, and in relation to these theoretical strands the theme calls for panels addressing new developments of frameworks explaining global commons governance emerging in the wake of current mega-trends (such as climate change, deforestation, biodiversity loss, poverty, resilience etc.) and how these can relate to the new approaches mentioned. (Comment by authors to board: Please provide further inputs


Important Dates

Panels Submission Deadline

Panel Submissions CLOSED

October 3, 2022

Call for Papers open

We will accept stand-alone paper submissions (related to a conference sub-theme) and panel-related paper submissions. Before submitting a stand-alone paper, please check if your paper fits thematically into a panel.
Panels co-participants will need to enter their contributions via the paper submissions. 
November 9, 2022

Welcome to Nairobi

The IASC2023 Organizers from the University of Nairobi and the University of Bern welcome you to the XIX Biennial IASC Conference ‘The Commons we want’. We hope you have a wonderful conference and will enjoy both the conference as well as everything Nairobi has to offer.

19 June 2023

Conference Registration Fees

The conference registration fees are wage-dependent to make the conference accessible to all income categories. IASC membership is a prerequisite to registering for the conference. If you are not an IASC member yet, please follow this link.

Conference registration will start with early bird registration on February 28, 2023. Full fees will be charged starting April 30, 2023.

Annual IncomeEarly BirdFrom April 30, 2023
USD 19,999 or lessUSD 150USD 200
USD 20,000 – 49,999USD 225USD 290
USD 50,000 – 79,999 USD 300USD 375
USD 80,000 and overUSD 450USD 540