Arkiv för October, 2015


Postad i kategorin: Uncategorized den 28 October, 2015

Welcome back to Commons and Commodities. This time I want to discuss the concept of Mining. A Crucial aspect of mining is that it involves extracting resources: it is not just about digging something out of the ground, but also involves processing it and turning it into something that is useful and valuable. This usually includes a moment of propertization: as I am extracting something that appears to be of no use and not belonging to anyone and turning it into something valuable, I usually also lay claim to it as my private property. This is a simple example of John Locke’s definition of property as the product of labour, which has become a philosophical cornerstone for the liberal understanding of property rights in general and intellectual property in particular:

every man has a ’property’ in his own ’person’. This no body has any right to but himself. The ’labour’ of his body, and the ’work’ of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever, then, he removes out of the state that Nature hath provided and left it in, he hath mixed his Labour with it, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property (John Locke, Two Treatises of Government, 1690).

But then again – things are rarely as simple as they seem, and soon questions arise: Who does the labour? Who gets the property? Who carries the externalized costs in forms of damage to natural or cultural ecosystems? And most important for this project: where do we draw the lines of propertization?

Mark Getty, CEO of the image bureau Getty images, once stated that ‘intellectual property is the oil of the 21st century’’. Mr. Getty should know: not only is he the heir of the Getty family’s business empire, founded on oil money in the 20th century – he also runs a company that entirely depends on intellectual property. The business model of Getty Images basically consist of buying the rights to large collections of photographies from the 20th century and charging fees from anyone who wants to use them to illustrate and visualize our common history. This model is akin to oil extraction, and to mining, in the sense that it consists in locating already existing resources, packaging them and laying claims to them. If oil and iron ore are natural resources that have been formed by geological processes over thousands of years, then historical photographies can be seen as cultural resources that get their value from a shared understanding and recognition of our past. A difference however is that Mr. Getty and his merry mates didn’t take the photographies themselves, so the miner – in this case – did not do the actual labour which destabilizes Locke’s property theory.

And then there is the question of what we can actually own. We can own an image, but can we own an entire documentation of our collective history? We can own a piece of iron or a can of oil, but to what extent can we lay claims to the land from which it is extracted. When it comes to genetic resources, biotech companies are systematically patenting genes and biological substances harvested from nature and the human body. Recently, there has also been a growing debate on so called data mining: a business practice where technology and social media companies such as Google and Facebook systematically hoard huge quantities of data about how we consume, act and live online and use it or sell it as a tool for marketing. Through phenomena such as gene patents and data mining our own bodies, persons and behaviour are turned into resources that are extracted, processed and propertized as commercially valuable commodities.

Mining thus take place across a wide range of businesses and applies to a variety of different resources. Some people argue that we live in an age of extractionism: an era where the extraction of resources is increasingly important as an economic driving force and rationale. If there is any truth to this, then the distinction of what is extractable and what can be propertized is absolutely fundamental not only to how the economy functions today and in the future, but also to how we as citizens and human beings can function within this economy.


The Commons

Postad i kategorin: The Basics den 7 October, 2015

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.




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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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