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New to the Commons?
If you’re coming to the commons for the first time, it can be difficult to grok the idea because there are so many different ways to understand the commons. That’s because the commons is not so much a fixed, universal thing as a general concept describing durable, dynamic sets of social relationships for managing resources -- all sorts of resources: digital, urban, natural, indigenous, rural, cultural, scientific, to use some crude categories.
Each commons has its own distinctive character because each is shaped by its particular location, history, culture and social practices. So it can be hard for the newcomer to see the patterns of “commoning.” The term commoning means to suggest that the commons is really more of a verb than a noun. It is a set of ongoing practices, not an inert physical resource. There is no commons without commoning. This helps explain why the commons is different from a "public good"; the commons is not just an economistic category floating in the air without actual people. There are no commons without commoners.
Getting a grip on the commons can be difficult, too, because there is no definitive canon of works. The particular commons that you inhabit and participate in will shape your view of what perspectives are noteworthy and explanatory. A commoner in Africa will see the commons in a different light than a European or an Asian or an American. Context matters. That's why a universal, unitary "defintion" of the commons is problematic. The phenomena of the commons are so segmented and fractal -- yet related!
As this suggests, there is no substitute for spending a little time exploring the commons from many different angles. The concept cannot be understood in one sound bite.
My website/blog tries to help by providing some resources for getting acquainted with the commons. You’ll find my blogroll to leading commons websites and blogs, a select bibliography, a college course syllabus, assorted reports, a listing of commons projects, and my various books and writings. To find more about a specific types of commons or explore a theme, click on the tag cloud in the upper right of the homepage, or search by a topic of your choice.
Here are a few items that can help orient you to the commons as a paradigm:
The Commons, Short and Sweet (two page statement)
- This Land Is Our Land (feature film, 46:00), Media Education Foundation
- What Are Commons (cartoon animation)
- The Commons (video overview, 3:47)
- Dave Rovics protest anthem, “The Commons” (video, 3:04)
- David Bollier talk at American Acacdemy in Berlin, December 2012 Video. Text.
- David Bollier interview with Chiari Somajni (47:39)
Good introductory books include:
- Our Common Wealth (2013), by Jonathan Rowe
- Common as Air: Revolution, Art and Ownership (2010), by Lewis Hyde
- The Value of Nothing (2010), by Raj Patel
- The Magna Carta Manifesto (2008), by Peter Linebaugh
- Silent Theft: The Private Plunder of Our Common Wealth (2003), by David Bollier
- Governing the Commons (1990), by Elinor Ostrom
- The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property, by Lewis Hyde
....but also browse the select bibliography here.
Some of the most focused insights about contemporary commons emerge from reports about conferences and workshops. Here are a few:
- International Commons Conference: video and accounts of a landmark gathering in Berlin, Germany, on November 1-2, 2010. See also the conference wiki.
- The Asian Deep Dive (report from October 2012 workshop)
- The European Deep Dive (report from December 2012 workshop)
- The Commons: Prosperity by Sharing (report by Silke Helfrich et al., October 2010).
- The Commoners at Crottorf Castle (report from a retreat of commoners, June 2009), Parts I, Part II, and Part III