The “Commons” in a nutshell…

These keypoints are based on David Bollier’s article, “The Commons, Short and Sweet” (2011).

The commons is a social system for the long-term stewardship of resources that preserves shared values and community identity. 

The way of life within a commons paradigm prioritizes the protection and improvement of our environment and resources, ensuring that these gifts can be passed on to future generations for them to be enjoyed and protected once again.

The commons is a self-organized system by which communities manage resources (both depletable and replenishable) with minimal or no reliance on the Market or State.

Commoners blur the roles of producers and consumers and actively create and exchange value based on their own needs.  

The wealth that we inherit or create together and must pass on, undiminished or enhanced, to our children. Our collective wealth includes the gifts of nature, civic infrastructure, cultural works and traditions, and knowledge.

Sustainability is a core pillar of commoning.

A sector of the economy (and life!) that generates value in ways that are often taken for granted – and often jeopardized by the Market-State.

Think of care-labour, such as unpaid housework and reproductive work (look up Silivia Federici for more on this). Non-human labour such as microorganisms fertilizing the soil, allowing us to grow healthy vegetables. The Market-State devalues these forms of labour because they are not considered as productive forces in the economy, like the labourer or the product. 

The commons is not a resource. It is a resource plus a defined community and the protocols, values and norms devised by the community to manage its resources.  Many resources urgently need to be managed as commons, such as the atmosphere, oceans, genetic knowledge and biodiversity.

Always keep in mind, the triangle of commoning: resource – community – practices 

There is no commons without commoning: the social practices and norms for managing a resource for collective benefit. Forms of commoning vary from one commons to another because humanity itself is so varied. Hence there is no “standard template” for commons, but shared patterns and principles.

The commons is a global phenomenon which exists in a multitude of context-specific forms.

One of the great unacknowledged problems of our time is the enclosure of the commons: the expropriation and commercialization of shared resources, usually for private market gain. Enclosure can be seen in the patenting of genes and lifeforms, the use of copyrights to lock up creativity and culture, the privatization of water and land, and attempts to transform the open Internet into a closed, proprietary marketplace.

The classic commons are small-scale and focused on natural resources: an estimated two billion people depend upon commons of forests, fisheries, water, wildlife and other natural resources for their everyday subsistence. But the contemporary struggle of commoners is to find new structures of law, institutional form and social practice that can enable diverse sorts of commons to work at larger scales and to protect their resources from market enclosure. 

“The next big thing will be a lot of small things” (Thomas Lommée, designer).

A short film explaining how the commons actually work