Arkiv för kategorin 'The Basics'

The Commons

Postad i kategorin: The Basics den 7 October, 2015

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A fundamental concept for this project is ’the commons’. By ‘the commons’ we mean resources that are shared and commonly used by a group of people. Historically the so called ‘enclosure of the commons’ refers to an ongoing privatisation of agricultural land in England between the 15th and 19th century, when land areas that had been collectively used were gradually turned over into the hands of private landowner (Thompson 1963). While some historians see the enclosure of the commons as depriving poor people of their means of support others see it as the introduction of more efficient means to manage farming land (Thompson 1963; Armstrong 1981). This process has become the subject of long standing debates over the best way to manage resources where collective use is contrasted against private ownership. In his famous article ”The tragedy of the commons” from 1968 Garret Hardin described how the use of commons suffer from a prisoners dilemma, where natural resources that are at anyone’s unregulated disposal will inevitably become exploited and exhausted as everyone tries to maximize their own share before the wells (literally) run dry. Hardin’s famous conclusion was that commons cannot survive in a world of escalating population growth and increased need for natural resources. In order to survive, the commons have to be enclosed and regulated either by the state or commercial interests.

Hardin’s article has often been presented as a proof that the commons is a utopian ideal. It can however be argued that Hardin’s thesis rests on a fundamental misconception of the commons: Hardin assumes that the commons is at anyone’s unlimited access which has rarely been the case: most commons are actually subjected to particular social norms that regulate how they can be used and by whom. In the 1980s, Hardin’s analysis was increasingly challenged by a new wave of research on the commons, spearheaded by Nobel laureate Ellinore Ostrom, that explored different kinds of commons as potentially fruitful form of community governance. In the 1990s the concept of the commons made its way into an emerging debate over how the expansion of intellectual property rights limited the public access to culture, knowledge and information. Scholars like James Boyle talked about the privatisation of information through intellectual property as a second enclosure movement.

We don’t mean to idealise the concept of the commons by assuming that it is always necessarily the best way to manage resources. We do however argue that the commons are generally both under-researched and under-protected as a mode of resource management. Or as the Swedish scholar Eva Hemmugs Wirtén has pointed out: “there are plenty of institutions that intervene against the theft of immaterial property, but there are no institutions that protect against propertization of immaterial commons”. While we want to discuss the commons as a potentially productive model of resource management we also acknowledge that it is not necessarily more democratic that other property regimes: as regulatory models, most commons also embody their own structures of stratification, power and exclusion. One example of this can be found in the Hungarian copyright scholar Balasz Bodó’s account of the regulatory models in closed filesharing networks. He argues that many consumers turn to various specialised file-sharing communities that exist beyond well-known mainstream platforms such as The Pirate Bay. These closed networks are often very exclusive not only in their choice of content but also in their selection of members. Such file-sharing (pirate) communities often promote ‘voluntary’ property rights regimes. Bodó demonstrates how such alternative networks can impose their own rules of exchange which can be much more efficient than any formal and universal system of property rights. Piracy can thus, in some cases, construct and impose its own property regimes and artificial systems of scarcity, that might be more efficient, but sometimes also just as restrictive, as conventional property regimes such as copyright. The strength of the commons as a model for resource management is, however, that they are often collectively formulated by those who actually use the resources which tends to make them more flexible and better adapted to the needs and circumstances posed by the resources at stake and the people who use them.

 

Martin


 

Welcome to Commons and Commodities

Postad i kategorin: The Basics den 28 September, 2015

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Here you can follow the research project Commons and Commodities: Knowledge, Natural resources and the Construction of Property as it progresses over the following four years. When the project is finished, by the end of 2018, we hope to have contributed to the knowledge of how commonly used resources, such as information, culture, biological substances and land, are propertized and commodified. By propertized we refer to a process where resources that have previously been common and free for all to use are redefined into private property that can be claimed and controlled by designated owners. Commodification refers to how this property is turned into commodities that can be bought and sold. These two processes are sometimes, but not always, coexistent. The process of propertization is often followed by commodification, but it can also exist without a commercial interest, for instance as a means to safeguard and maintain resources against exploitation under the protection that property rights offer.

Conflicting definitions over resources as either common or private are acted out in many different contexts. The debates over digital piracy is one such area where copyright holders se file sharing as an act of theft of their immaterial property while ideologically driven file sharers often motivate it as an act of communication where culture and information are seen as common resources, freely shared between peers. Conflicts over mining projects on indigenous land is another example where mining companies see it as their right to extract, propertize and commodify natural resources that might be located in areas that have traditionally been used more or less collectively by indigenous people, for grazing land, foraging or for cultural or ritual purposes.

These are complex issues, that are often reduced to simplified oppositions. We want to avoid simplifications, which is why we will take four years to ponder the relation between commons and commodities. In these four year we plan to conduct three separate but intertwined studies. The first concerns the enclosure of the Information Commons through the expansion of intellectual property rights. It looks at EU’s and Australia’s signing and cancelled ratification of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) in 2012. The second concerns Biopiracy: how companies patent traditional knowledge, for instance concerning the medical use of herbs and plants, which has previously been commonly used among indigenous groups. This is exemplified through EU’s and Australia’s signing of the The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization. The third concerns Environmental Commons: how natural resources, generally perceived as common land, are appropriated by corporations. It focuses on local cases where mining projects on indigenous land in Scandinavia and Australia have provoked resistance from local people.

The project will be conducted by me and my colleague Johanna Dahlin and runs between 2015 and 2018. It is finances by an International Career Grant/Marie Curie Fellowship from the Swedish National Research Council and based at the department for Culture Studies at Linköping University, Sweden, but will partly be conducted in Australia and the Netherlands. As I’m writing this I’m sitting on a plane to Sydney, looking forward to connecting with the Institute for Culture and Society at University Of Western Sydney which will be one of the host departments, alongside the Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis at the University of Amsterdam.

Much more can said about Commons and Commodities, and I can promise that much more will be said on this blog in the following four years. So if you think that this might be just a little bit interesting, but can’t really make out where it’s heading – please bear with us and bookmark this website. In the coming months we will get back to you with frequent updates where we hope to begin to unravel what we mean when we talk about issues such as commons, property, mining and biopiracy. In due time we will also publish tentative results from the fieldworks we are beginning to undertake in late 2015. This blog will thus gradually evolve into an archive presenting a growing body of new empirical and theoretical knowledge on the relations between Commons and Commodities and the construction of property.

Martin Fredriksson


 

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Commons and Commodities

Commons and Commodities
Commons and Commodities är ett forskningsprojekt som undersöker hur gemensamma resurser, allmänningar, avgränsas och inhägnas – och det motstånd sådana processer möter. Vi studerar hur olika typer av allmänningar – både materiella och immateriella – på olika sätt privatiseras och inhägnas och hur detta påverkar de som brukar dem. Vi som skriver här heter Johanna Dahlin och Martin Fredriksson.

Common and Commodities is a research project which asks if, and how, the commons are rearticulated and enclosed as property. It aims to provide new knowledge about how different kinds of common resources are enclosed and commodified as private property, and how this affects those who use and manage those commons. Johanna Dahlin and Martin Fredriksson are writing.

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