Sub-theme 10. Local institution building and radical futures for the commons
Strategic alliances in entanglements of commons and non-commons
The panel understands commons as always already entangled with other forms of resource organisation. This perspective refocuses attention on entanglements, interdependences, and powerful arrangements in and around the commons. The panel investigates where structures of power are reproduced or reinforced within commoner organisations, situations where boundaries between commons and non-commons are diffuse or in constant shift (both in obvious and more covert ways), or where larger arrangements around the commons endanger their survival. Commoners in such situations face tough choices about strategic alliances with non-commons. Taking these tough choices seriously contributes to an empirically informed perspective on the radical future of the commons by learning from successful examples and avoiding the mistakes of failed ones.
We seek papers that analyse strategic alliances where commoners managed to secure commons, expand their reach, and engage more commoners and where the commons were encroached on or exploited by other arrangements of resource organisation.
Papers might talk about situations in which large-scale infrastructure developments endanger local forms of commons, forcing commoners to negotiate contemporary and future relations between people, land, and profit. Others might address economic restructuring and how austerity means outsourcing labour-intensive social functions to solidaristic organisations. In again others, non-commons arrangements might profit from the commons while endangering their social reproduction. Such and other settings come to mind where the question of strategic alliances in entanglements of commons and non-commons is critical for crafting a better future.
1. Entangling the Over-Commons: Strategies of Capture and Control among Austrian elites
University St. Gallen, Switzerland
The paper attempts to understand how elites strategically carve out resources to distribute among themselves. Working with the notion of over-commons as a contrastive concept to Fred Moten and Stefano Harney’s under-commons, I want to understand the capture of state resources in Austria.
Powerful elites do so in a variety of ways, a) from the strategic use of imaginaries of collectivity and notions of reciprocity, b) by increasing their material hold on resources such as forests, communal lands, and other key resources, and c) by legal arbitrage and tactics of lawfare. I argue that these strategies ask pertinent questions about resource use and the entanglement of commons and non-commons.
I conclude by discussing potential counter-strategies and how actors and activists tactically engage with these strategies to make them visible or litigate against powerful actors who try to extend their control of resources.
2. My Recipe, Your Recipe: The Food Knowledge Commons and Privatized Recipes
Ostrom Workshop, Indiana University, USA
Knowing how to prepare food is a survival skill and a creative practice, and as food knowledge is shared across all humans, it constitutes a commons. Billions of people know how to prepare, combine, detoxify, and preserve foods, and no one person holds all of this knowledge. We might think of this knowledge as an excludable, non-rivalrous club good. Food knowledge can be shared among individuals, transferred from person to person through apprenticeship, shared sensory experience, or through language in the form of recipes: a fixed, linguistically specified way of preparing a certain food or drink. Though food knowledge is intangible and maximally diffuse, written recipes as artifacts consolidate snippets of food knowledge into circulatable texts, subject to ownership claims and contestations. Recipe writers and publishers use copyrightable photos and headnotes to extract value from the circulation of uncopyrightable recipes, and corporations use trade secrecy law and patents to extract value from a recipe not circulating. In this paper I will untangle the unbounded food knowledge commons and the US legal mechanisms employed to profit from privatized food knowledge artifacts: recipes.
3. Collective pastures, corporate milk – entangled commons under pressure from the consolidated dairy processing industry in Austria
University of Vienna, Austria
Common mountain pastures used for transhumance form a strong and continued tradition in the Austrian Alps. These collectively used, governed and/or owned summer pastures have been entangled with other tenure regimes as far back as documentation goes, e.g. with private animals, stables, and homestead; with communal water access; or with parallel collectively organized access to forest resources. Equally, mountain farming in the Alps, rather than being an isolated means of self-sufficiency, has recurrently been connected to other ways of making a living. Historically agriculture has been combined with manufacture, migratory or non-migratory wage labor – today it is with wage labor and incomes generated from tourism. Accordingly, the fact that the faring of agriculture and livelihood strategies of farmers on their homesteads in the valleys influences the faring of mountain commons is nothing new. What is rather new, however, is that mountain farmers in Austria have to compete with agroindustrial production costs on the European market and have to do so in the context of continuously centralizing market power of the domestic dairy processing industry.
Based on 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork in two regions of Austria on pasture commons and years of activist engagement with peasant organizations, this paper on the one hand explores how dairy enterprises shape animal compositions on farmsteads and common mountain pastures, e.g. through demanding upcharges for milk collection in remoter areas. On the other I want to spotlight alternative, cooperative processing and marketing networks that mountain farmers have developed to withstand and defy this trend.
4. The camp and the commons: socio-technical imaginaries for cohabitation in refugee affected regions
Wageningen University, Nederland
This paper traces a shift from looking at protracted refugee camps as burdens to seeing these as anchors for ‘development’. It explores how camps have become projected as sites for investment and innovation, building on the inevitability of their long term existence, its effects on refugee-host relations, and the evolution of humanitarian governance in these contexts. Short-term humanitarian refugee assistance is discursively and practically reinvented as contributing to more long-term development of the regions in which these camps are located. The result is a shift in perceiving of camps as humanitarian necessities for a specific category of people to imagining other approaches to govern displacement affected regions more broadly. Novel forms of engagement and investment materialise in these refugee-hosting regions, such as hybrid camps and durable settlements, that seek to govern and maintain refugee camp structures and services that simultaneously benefit refugees, ‘host’ populations’ and their environment. This paper explores socio-technical imaginaries that engage with displacement affected regions as commons, in which an increasingly wide group of actors come to operate, such as private organisations, municipal actors, refugees and local corporations and entrepreneurs. The paper is based on fieldwork and literature study of refugee hosting regions in Kenya, Jordan and Greece, and marries forced migration studies with art and architecture by exploring specific designs as alternatives to encampment.