Sub-theme 10. Local institution building and radical futures for the commons
From the governance of the commons to a wider commons-inspired governance: obstacles and institutional changes inside the State and the Market
Commons do not succeed or fail due only to efficient design principles on their own governance. Indeed, they are always deeply influenced by a wider governance environment: e.g., rules and laws produced by different (and potentially contradictory) levels of government, by market and financial conditions of the local areas, and by their cultural, social and political contexts.
In several cases, it is precisely the elements of this wider governance that undermine the principles of collective governance, forcing commons to navigate fragile waters in unfavourable conditions. We want to analyse what these obstacles are, how they reoccur, and how they can be overcome. What are the factors originating from the State and the Market that hinder commons governance and how can they be challenged? Starting with the friction between the commons and the surrounding political and economic environment, in the Panel we will also reflect on how the “commons we want” can act as agent of transformation for the “society we want”. Is this society prefigured by the philosophical and political ecology theories arose around the common’s grammar? Is there a connection between participatory/deliberative democracy and the commons? Which case studies can describe strategies of success or failure in transforming the broader institutional contexts in which the commons are embedded? Which legal tools are allies or enemies of the commons and why? Which economic principles and other rules (e.g., for accounting, taxation, debt, urban planning, free trade, environmental legislation etc) can be radically re-imagined starting with the experience, theories, and institutional creativity of the commons?
Panel 10.12. A
1. Poilitical-legal hacking: a strategy for the common(er)s
University of Salerno, Italy
Commons are beyond the State and the Market, but they are not impermeable to them. The neoliberalisation of Institutions redefines contemporary governance and with it the relationship between the two. One of the characteristics of this trend is the metamorphosis of law. If every legal framework is performative, the neoliberal ones redesign power relations between public and private on the axes of competition, individual risk-taking, generic individualisation of preferences, and affinity-based social cluster building.
Collective actions, community engagement, and participatory tools also move in this “governmental” scenario and are therefore ambivalent: on the one hand, new opportunities for the recognition of zones of civic engagement and autonomy, including the commons, are arising; on the other hand, cooperative models in the broad sense, of which the commons are also part in peculiar forms, can be subsumed to abdicate the responsibility of public authorities and privatise services, using them as low-cost welfare for the most vulnerable.
How can commons governance play as a driver of political change in this scenario? We can hack the legal, doing a creative use of law and rules to support commoners’ daily activity and change policies in the opposite direction of neoliberalitation. In order to do so, political-legal hacking is a soft law from grassroots and a tool for the creation of new institutions that focus on selective changes within the legal system of reference of an interdependent resource claimed as a commons and tries to hack their public or private governance inserting participatory elements and rights of collective use.
2. The commons, their institutionalisation and day by day struggles. Lessons learnt from two case studies and a toolkit towards empowering grassroot groups.
1University of Huddersfield, United Kingdom, 2University of Pavia, Italy
The proponents draw from their experience of working as participants in commoning endeavours in a forgotten neighbourhood of Huddersfield (Fartown), a Northern English town, as well as in Pavia, a small town in Northern Italy (Moruzzi Road).
While both may be interpreted as commons and share some constituent elements, they also showcase very different features in terms of resources, self-defined social groups that activate them, and protocols or governance.
While Moruzzi Road, aligned with many other Italian cases, developed itself on the basis of a governance scheme which includes the local ‘regulation for the urban commons’ and the ‘collaboration pact’, Fartown enjoys none of that if not glimpses from the British tradition of community gardens and participation.
Both projects share, unfortunately, the absence if not the opposition of local authorities (namely the city councils). Un-supportive attitudes, strict interpretations of local regulations, lack of political will sum up to create what is felt to be a vacuum. Which provides, in positive, plenty of opportunities to self-organise and manage those spaces (to become commons, in our interpretation).
The paper specifically zooms into and illustrate two stages of the mobilization of such socio-spatial practices: how the active agents mobilise and create space to gather as an informal group, self-organise and initiate its spatial practice; internal systems and mechanisms that are designed to sustain the practice.
A Toolkit names “Commoning Kirklees” will be presented to showcase how proponents have intended to support grassroot actions and aspirations, and how this may empower those groups towards navigating the commons in between State and market powers.
3. Effects of urbanization on cooperation: results from large-scale implementation of a collective action game
Arizona State University, USA
Rapid urbanization has greatly influenced rural areas that are situated on the periphery of urban towns and cities. While still rural is their characteristic, these villages are subject to the effects of expanding urban centers with increased access to road infrastructure, markets and livelihood opportunities. At the same time, they become susceptible to the caveats of urban expansion including land grabbing for housing and other ‘developmental’ activities, resource exploitation and political neglect, making this population extremely vulnerable to multiple stressors, including climate risks and uncertainties. Increasing climate uncertainty has necessitated strengthening collective action to address these challenges. However, how does rural-urban transitions affect communities’ capacity to collectivize/ cooperate?
This study uses experimental data from 400+ sites across 3 states in India to examine the effects of urbanization on cooperation. Specifically, it uses data obtained from the implementation of a groundwater management game: a collective action game that simulates the effects of individual and collective crop choices on groundwater management. Groundwater is a common pool resource that is crucial for securing agricultural needs. Rapid urbanization threatens its sustainable use and management. The paper examines factors like proximity to towns and cities, along with community characteristics such as social and demographic composition, institutional arrangements, land holding, dependence on natural resources, access to road infrastructure and markets, to study their effects on cooperation. In addition, we discuss potential changes in policy and governance across the rural-urban continuum that can aid collective action.
4. Aesthetics as a Commoning Politics beyond Identity Based Democracies
Antwerp University, Belgium
In a representative democracy traditionally cultural institutions such as theaters, museums and libraries were built to support the values of the nation-state. Such institutions had the task, among other things, to simulate a uniform language and a monoculture for a population within a geopolitical space. From the 1970s onwards there has been strong criticism on this representative democracy model to which the colonial and post-colonial criticism connects. A solution is then sought in deliberative deocracy with a more multicultural approach where multiple cultures must be represented equally. However, multiculturalism is based on an identity politics that takes harmony and consensus to easily for granted. In this presentation is argued for agonistic democratic model that is based on an aesthetics for commoning politics. It does not matter to smooth out or suppress conflicts and tensions, but to make them visible and ‘liveable’. Such a ‘commonist’ policy does not start from the equality between cultures, but focuses permanently on the ‘lesser’ in a society, on those who are not yet represented and do not have a voice independent of their cultural background, gender or social class. It does not focus on identities, but on the democratic free keeping and releasing of common necessary sources, such as education, language, culture, but also labor, health care and housing. Those resources are the subject of continuous struggle and discussion. As semi-public spaces, cultural institutions could be the ideal laboratories for such an agonistic democracy of commoning.
Panel 10.12. B
1. Can the state host the new ontology of the Commons?
KU Leuven, Belgium
This paper explores whether the state could support the proliferation of the commons and their relational ontology, by reviewing various theoretical perspectives and the way they speculate on state-commons interactions. While Marxist approaches see the state as merely instrumental for markets and neoclassical ones see it as an obsolete capital-land regulator, more nuanced perspectives see commons as always embedded in wider actor-institutional dynamics that are in turn affected by multi-scalar structural settings. The paper draws upon anarchist literature, looking at the ways in which communities have historically combined individual freedom with equality and solidarity to build egalitarian societies; state theories, de-constructing the notion of the state; political sociology, studying the merits and flaws of 19th century Western states, as expressed through power dynamics in the history of extractivist capitalism; social innovation based governance theories, looking at the way states support bottom-up initiatives, and civil-public collaborations; and strategic-relational institutionalism, analyzing the reflexive-recursive actor-institutional dynamics that structure commoning practices. It conceptualizes the state not as a homogeneous or monolithic force, but rather as networked governance ensembles open to the agency of collective action. From here, new questions regarding state-commons relations emerge. (1) How has property been so deeply embedded in current predominant Western-based global state conceptions and practices? (2) How do societies develop more complex and differentiated systems of land use, access and governance, while avoiding the development of coercive (state) power and accumulation? (3) What do alternative partner or solidarity ‘states’ look like?
2. Counter-hegemony, commons and new city politics
In tune with several activists and advocates across the world, the present argument holds that the ‘commons’ outlines a horizon of historical transformation which is already in motion, in fits and starts. Since the dawn of the new millennium, from the Bolivian Andes (for example, in the water war in Cochabamba from 1999 to 2000) to the US (for example, in the case of Creative Commons licences) and Southern Europe (for example, in the Italian city regulations for urban self-management) the commons have arisen as a historical alternative to both neoliberal capitalism and defunct socialism or Leninist communism.
Crucially, a commons-based politics could counter the rise of nationalist populism by advancing a progressive way of tackling social dislocation and alienation, restoring solidarity, collective ties, and common welfare. Moreover, alternative commons harbour a radical emancipatory ideal, a visionary pragmatism, and an accent on massive, bottom-up participation, which hold out the promise of overcoming the political frailty, the vertical hierarchies, the personalism, and the impoverished imagination of leftist populist parties in Europe, from Podemos to Syriza and Mélenchon.
This paper attempts to sketch out the new paradigm as well as indicate the lack of an adequate political strategy of transition and counter-hegemonic struggle for the commons. To start plotting such a strategy, we will draw on the 2011 cycle of mobilisations and the latest pro-commons politics in Spanish municipalities. The aim is to explore how powerful counter-hegemonic praxis could be pursued in ways which recast hegemonic politics in the direction of alternative commons – horizontal self-government, equality, sustainability, plurality, openness, and sharing.
3. The Common as a monetary mode of production
1Université Paris 8, France, 2Università degli studi di Salerno, Italy
The main objective of the talk will be to highlight the specifics of the common hypothesis as a monetary mode of production. This approach is based on two main assumptions. First, it is a matter of conceiving the common as a social relation of production potentially hegemonic to the capitalist one. Second, as a monetary mode of production, it is a matter of looking at money, and not the state, as the privileged institution within which conflicts between the appropriative logic of capital and the principles of the common develop. The main hypothesis, then, is that the communalization of money allows for the overcoming of a premonetary conception that is often localist and an anti-monetary conception that risks relegating the management of the commons to the primacy of planning and decision-making. Tracing the historical and potential operating principles of the “Money of the Common” opens up a perspective on the impersonal, reified and abstract dimension of the common in its actuality as a mode of wealth and subjectivity production. An attempt will then be made to show how currency has always been in capitalism a battlefield capable of integrating different levels of conflict. In short, what I will try to show is that “money-capital,” aimed at appropriation and profit, has always been challenged by a “money of the common” in terms of workers’, feminist, and decolonial struggles translated into social, commons, political and civil rights that have historically forced the construction of a non-mercantile monetary economy. The political principle (radical democracy) guiding the common thus appears consubstantial and inseparable from an overall production relationship characterized by its own mode of production, distribution, socialization and consumption.
4. Intersections between arts, militant research and the commons
What is the relation between artistic practices and the commons? Is it just a matter of providing cultural opportunities for the community and those that are not able to have access to it? Could art practices in the commons open up to popular cultures? Could this coming together foster new publics, opening new possibilities for appreciating a variety of cultural productions? Does it aim to create contradictions in the cultural production system? Is it a way to give asylum to productions outside the market? Or all these things together? As the Institute of Radical Imagination, we are a group of curators, activists, scholars and cultural producers with a shared interest in co-producing research, knowledge, and artistic and political research interventions for a transition to post-capitalism. We will discuss issues we face with our artistic, academic and political activism: How do the voices/careers of artists who approach the commons intersect and/or change and transform their art, performances, and way of sharing? How does artistic education affect the way that artists can engage with the commons? How do IRI or other forms of activism based on culture, arts and commons influence the policies of traditional cultural institutions? Is it possible? Can we imagine an alternative way to create festivals that are not mere exhibitions of ideas, or that are not connected to and based on mainstream proposals? Are there some interesting case studies on distributing resources and opportunities in a horizontal and non-hegemonic way between commoners even when individual careers, productions, and lives are involved?
5. Commoning the legal troubles. A sharing platform for scholars and practitioners
University of Naples Federico II , Italy
The legal order typically acts on the social system by classifying multiform practices within predetermined categories and norms. The translation of the commons within the provisions of a certain legal order produces multiple effects. We may look, for instance, at the case of many urban commons, co-managed through heterogeneous and low-level formality assembly ecosystems. Legal orders often demand these realities the legal constitution into private entities, calling for “fictio iuris” and verticalisation of horizontal processes.
We propose to define and broaden this spectrum of inquiry, inviting scholars and conference participants to a project of collecting useful elements to identify problems and innovations, at the legal level, that can be compared between different commons, with the aim of understanding in a more general way what are the legal dynamics that at the global and local level hinder the processes of commoning. We will ask, among other things, what is the legal translation of the experiences of the commons; whether this translation deforms them or what difficulties it poses; what kind of laws, more generally, hinder the commons and commoners in their concrete lives.
Methodologically, we try to implement a bottom-up socio-legal analysis (Banakar, 2019) with interviews with key informant actors, i.e. qualified ‘leading subjects’ within the observed processes, such as scholars and practitioners who have unique or specific knowledge for purposeful and insightful perspectives.
Panel 10.12. C
1. Role of Implementation Structures in Re-commoning Process: A Longitudinal Case Study of India’s Forest Rights Act 2006 in Central India Districts
IIM Ahmedabad, India
Since the introduction of “scientific” forestry in the developing world (Larson & Ribot, 2007), several forms of wider governance mechanisms to regulate forest commons have been tried (Aggarwal et al., 2021; Gupta et al., 2020; Sarin, 2005). Rights-based approaches (RBAs) on conservation aim to keep communities at the center of forest commons management (Rights & Resource Institute, 2015; Witter & Satterfield, 2018). India’s Forest Rights Act 2006 (FRA) aimed to recognize the traditional rights of forest-dwelling communities represents one of the most significant efforts in this direction. However, several accounts point to its faltering success (Kashwan, 2013; Kumar et al., 2017). Through a case study of selected districts in Central India, we explore the experience of translating rights to reality. In contrast to several geographies with little or no implementation, the selected districts have been characterized by spurts of action and inaction resulting in a key intermittent output of forest rights recognition on the commons. Using administrative data and records, key stakeholder interviews and memoirs, we study the role played by state actors and non-state intermediaries in the achievement of legal recognition of community rights on traditional forest commons. We find that while the Act potentially provides an enabling architecture, the realization of its promise depends critically on several local factors, including the beliefs and motivations of those tasked with implementing it.
2. The participation of inhabitants in the urban planning of Marseille (France)
European Legal lab for the Commons, France
My topic will focus on the legal mechanisms that would allow the inhabitants of a city to participate in the definition and management of public urban development policies. How communities of inhabitants and actors can organise themselves to co-construct and co-manage these policies with the public authorities. Using the example of the Marseille Charter for rehousing and the Collège des Maîtrises d’Usages, we will look at the obstacles and levers regarding french legislation. The article will also try to see how the existing system can be improved from other European examples.
3. Common struggles, between institutionalization and informality. A critical assessment of three commoning experiences in Florence.
1Universita’ degli Studi di Firenze, Italy, 2Northumbria University, United Kingdom
The paper analyses the complex relationships across three commoning experiences in Florence and the broader governance framework they relate to. The case studies are: “Mondeggi Bene Comune”, “La comunità delle Piagge” and “Il giardino Nidiaci”. These differ in terms of scale, type of activities, decision making models and institutionalisation levels.
In particular, we analyse past and current attempts and processes of institutionalisation of such experiences and reflect upon the impact that these produced on the inherently informal setting of the commons and their collective governance. Through the three case studies, we investigate the different bottom-up and top-down urban strategies and tools developed to assimilate the grassroots experiences of Mondeggi, Le Piagge and Nidiaci, basically drawing on principles of self-organisation and self-maintenance, into a commodified regulatory framework. We furthermore discuss the different types of conflicted relationships and interactions with State and Market deriving from such institutionalisation processes.
The regulatory tools we introduce and analyse are: 1) the regulation for a shared management of the commons for Il Giardino Nidiaci 2) the bottom-up participatory process “Apriti piazza” for La Comunita’ delle Piagge; 3) the National Plan for Recovery and Resilience and related co-design process for Mondeggi.
Eventually, we highlight conflicts and inconsistencies between the informal nature of the three commoning experiences, the social agenda and self-organisation models they established and the outcomes of the institutionalisation and commodification processes they underwent. The aim is to critically assess to what extent the regulatory tools influence the genuine and free development of the commoning practices.
4. From Participatory to Commoning Frames: Discussing Community Relations with the Non-profits, the State, and the Market
1Universidade Federal Fluminense, Brazil, 2Politecnico di Milano, Italy
Departing from a theoretical frame that focuses on deliberative, collaborative, and direct democracy models, this paper situates Institutional Participatory Planning, Neighborhood Collaborative Planning, and the Institution of Commons, respectively adopted in Belo Horizonte (Brazil), Milan, and Naples (Italy), in order to highlight their theoretical underpinnings vis-à-vis the models and discuss if and how they overcome market-led obstacles and transform institutional community relations, furthering the public good, including/redistributing wealth and power, and being breeders of potentialities.
The Vila Ouro Preto (Belo Horizonte) example explores the deliberative model possibilities when the Participatory Budget meets and dialectically enhances a neighborhood plan for more than twenty years, while the Politecnico di Milano’s Mapping San Siro case represents the development of a collaborative Urban Living Lab at the neighborhood level in Milan since 2013, and the institution of commons in Naples looks at the adoption of direct democracy mechanisms that take place since 2011, starting with water management and now including thirteen local common and networked facilities.
Finally, the paper builds a critical view concerning the weaknesses and strengths of the models and their corresponding approaches to planning and to governability as they address broader structural and contextual issues.
5. Commons-based modes of food production in the Grisons, Switzerland
University of Bern, Switzerland
The current globalized food system tends to reduce the multiple contributions of food to society and the environment to its market exchange value; it normalizes food as a commodity. However, collective, self-organized modes of valuing, governing, sharing, and selling food have persisted and new ones have emerged in recent decades. While these food commons constitute innovative alternatives, they may face limitations in relation to equity, inclusion, economic viability, or resource exploitation. Adopting a new institutionalist political ecology approach, this contribution aims to disentangle food commons in terms of underlying motivations and discourses, decision-making processes, ownership of means of production, and distribution of assets implied in food production, processing, and exchange. Based on a comparative study of three farmer cooperatives in mountain areas in the Grisons, Switzerland, we demonstrate how communities of self-organized farmers seize different discourses, internal rules, and market strategies; and are affected differently by public policies. We also evaluate how these institutional regimes contribute to de/commodify food and food-related resources. Methods included document analysis, qualitative interviews, participatory observation, and focus group discussions. Data was analyzed with a combination of thematic content analysis and discourse analysis. Initial results show that while some market strategies and public policies might encourage or require producers to collectively self-organize, they might at the same time impose regulations that restrict them in participatory decision-making, collective ownership of the means of production, and equal distribution of assets, which might further contribute to commodify food and undermine food commons.