“Commoneering”: A New Coinage Best Forgotten?

At the recent Economics and the Commons Conference, the charismatic Jem Bendell, Professor of Sustainability Leadership at the University of Cambia (UK), made an offhand reference to “commoneering.”  The novel term is apparently a play on the terms “commandeer” and “pioneer.”  I must admit, the words had a nice, solid ring to it.  I think it’s the hard “eer” that sounds so good; it have a more assertive tone than the more familiar “commoning.”  Commoneering almost has a certain aura of cool to it.    

But should we embrace such a new term?  The topic provoked more controversy than I might have imagined – and perhaps deservedly so.  The arguments generally went like this:  “Commoneering” implies that there is a certain class of people who are skilled in designing a commons or in pioneering its development.  The word implies this group of expert designers work separately from ordinary commoners and have some special knowledge for setting them apart as “commoneers.” 

This, of course, is an affront to the very idea of commoning.  It implies that commoneering is something that is different from (and better than?) “ordinary” commoning.  Commoning is something that all the talents of the entire community do together, in collaboration.  Commoneering feels vaguely elitist.

This may be reading a lot into a term that was, after all, presented in a rather casual manner.  Bendell didn’t even really give a serious definition to the term.  And I usually don’t like for anyone to set themselves up as “language police.” 

But to the extent that commoneering has a substantive meaning that is different from commoning, I think it may be best to simply avoid using the term.  It invites needless controversy.  We have plenty of serious challenges to meet without wading into a swamp of linguistic debates about a term that we don't seem to need.  Why not nip this one in the bud? 

By the way, Jem Bendells’ talk on money and credit as a commons was terrific.  I highly recommend that you watch the video of his talk here.


Commoner, commoneer... levellers?

I'm a little late joining the discussion here, but in the context of history with a capital "H" a month isn't such a long time. The Levellers were a radical political movement or faction during the English Civil War of the mid-17th century. They took their name, however, from a much older practice, "hedge-levelling." that began as a traditional and, to some extent at least, legally-sanctioned (or at least tolerated) response to illicit enclosures of common fields.

The term has acquired other connotations, namely of radical egalitarianism, that some moderns might consider unrealistic and "Utopian." There was nothing "Utopian," however, about  levelling hedges. It was a way of conserving a way of life and community. In other words, it was conservative. 

Commoning or Commoneering?

Great feedback, but a bit more budding

Thanks for your compliments about the speech David. I had fun and learned a lot. Yes, my suggestion of a better term for speaking about those that support the commons is something I didnt explore in detail, as it wasnt what was requested of me. But Im still left wondering..

Might it be useful for enabling skills development to recognise that some people are applying their working lives to protecting or creating commons? Could that be helped with a name? Would such recognition/name necessarily have to cast them as an "elite" compared to others that protect or co-create commons with less of a professional or vocational focus? Does a commons approach to life exclude notions of either expertise, professional specialism or leadership? Do we need more of these to protect and build the commons, as well as (not instead of) broader participation? Given the problems with the term "commoner" what other term can we use? see Oxford Dictionary for the meaning of commoner. http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/commoner

My main insight from working on NGO campaigns as well as brands and marketing is that the key is to focus on what might work for communicating to a target audience, rather than what works for communicating amongst a smaller group of peers or insiders. So this depends on the target audience... and I think we need a far wider participation of both activist and entrepreneurial types in the conversation about the commons.  

On my future book.. called "Healing Capitalism", I recognise its a title that could piss off both capitalists and anti capitalists. Ideas from the conference will help me greatly as I finish it this summer.. so thx again for the invite.


Since 'we are language', storytellers and narrative-makers, I think it's important to be cautious over language-use.  Silke's talk on decommodifying langague was really important and it's a serious ideological move to speak of language as neutral - language is certainly performative.

It's also troubling that his soon-to-be published book is called Healing Capitalism...what are we on to now, capitalism 7.0??

What's wrong with calling a

What's wrong with calling a book "Healing Capitalism"?

As Rowe and Bollier spell out, it's important not to look at the left or the right but find new ways through the middle that break down the markets versus state conversations.

Anything that moves us forward from where we are now must surely be welcomed and in my experience Bendell is as committed as anyone to doing that.