The New Commons
The New Commons
- Katharina BodirskyKatharina BodirskyUniversity of Konstanz
Traditionally, the notion of the commons refers to long-standing common-pool resources such as forests, meadows, or fisheries that are managed communally. By now, the term is used for the communal production and management of almost any material or immaterial resource. “New commons” can include—for example—co-produced knowledge, shared urban space such as housing or community gardens, or communities of care. They are defined less by the particular resource they use than by specific social relations of “commoning”: relatively open, egalitarian, and democratic relations of co-production and co-use by a community of “commoners.”
The (new) commons are a central hope for many activists and activist scholars that seek to work toward a postcapitalist future beyond the market and the state and related modes of sexist and racist domination. They are often associated with autonomist, anarchist, and neo-Marxist political practice and thought. Commons imaginaries are moreover central to critiques of neoliberalism and to initiatives that seek to carve out alternative spaces for social and cultural reproduction in an increasingly commodified world. Of particular importance in the literature are urban commons, with cities being key sites both of neoliberal enclosure and of contemporary social movements that practice commoning.
Ethnographers are increasingly exploring the complexity of actually existing commons, which often do not easily conform to commoning ideals. Such commons can be prone to co-optation into capitalist processes or have difficulties in maintaining egalitarian relations in communities open to difference. They often stand in ambivalent relation rather than clear opposition to the state. At the same time, anthropologists emphasize how commoning enables new experiences of personhood, sociality, and commonality.
While approaches to traditional and to new commons generally differ in central questions and conceptual tools, a possible point of connection is in a shared concern with planetary futures. While much of the literature on the traditional commons is concerned with the sustainable management of natural resources, many “new” commoning initiatives seek to enact postcapitalist relations to nature that are nonexploitative and recognizant of multispecies connections.
- Sociocultural Anthropology