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Property – Place – Piracy

Postad i kategorin: Uncategorized den 30 October, 2017

If you want to get a glimpse of what we have been up to lately, take a look at the newly published anthology Property, Place and Piracy. The Book is edited by Martin Fredriksson and James Arvanitakis and contains 14 chapters that explore how property is constructed and appropriated in different ways . What can be owned, by whom, and why? How could a tiny country off the coast of Europe lay claims to a huge continent in the Pacific Ocean? What parts of life can actually be owned as Intellectual Property? And who are really the pirates?

We are happy to present five chapters from this book at the Commons and Commodities blog. If you are interested in the paradoxes of property in a (post)colonial world, have a look at the ‘Introduction’, at Ingrid Matthews’ text on ‘Decolonising’ and at the Chapter ‘Commons, Piracy and Property: Crisis, Conflict and Resistance’ by Arvanitakis & Fredriksson.

Apart from addressing issues of property creation that are central to the Commons and Commodities-project, the book also contains two chapters with specific findings from this project. Ingrid Matthews’ chapter ‘Commodification of Country: An Australian Case Study in Community Resistance to Mining’, returns to the protests against Coal Seam Gas extraction in the Pilliga Forrest in New South Wales, and discusses these in relation to old colonial practices, and new state laws that severely limit the right to protest and further strengthen the power of mining companies.

Fredriksson’s chapter ‘From Biopiracy to Bioprospecting: Negotiating the Limits of Propertization’, discusses attempts in international law to address biopiracy by ensuring indigenous local communities a fair share when their traditional knowledge is being patented and commercialized. The question is whether such instruments protect indigenous cultures against exploitation or if they merely cut them in on an propertization and commodification of natural and cultural resources that, at the end of the day, maintains a (neo)colonial global order.



Extracting the Commons

Postad i kategorin: Uncategorized den 20 March, 2017

We are happy to present the first article from the commons and commodities project. It is entitled ‘Extracting the Commons‘ and is part of a special issue of Cultural Studies focusing on the ‘Cultural Studies of Extraction’.

Apart from presenting the theoretical foundations of this project this article also discusses some of the fieldwork we did on the resistance against coal mining and Coal Seam Gas extraction in New South Wales in 2015 and 2016.

The article looks at how extraction is enacted through three distinct practices: prospecting, enclosure and unbundling, studied through three different cases. The cases involve resources that are material and immaterial, renewable as well as non-renewable, “natural” as well as man-made. Prospecting is exemplified by patenting of genetic resources and traditional knowledge, enclosure is exemplified by debates over copyright expansionism and information commons, and unbundling through conflicts over mining and gas extraction. The article draws on interviews and participant observation with protesters at contested mining sites in Australia and with digital rights activists from across the world who protest against how the expansion of copyright limits public access to culture and information.

The article departs from an understanding of “commons” not as an open-access resource, but as a resource shared by a group of people, often subjected to particular social norms that regulate how it can be used. Enclosure and extraction are both social processes, dependent on recognising some and downplaying or misrecognising other social relations when it comes to resources and processes of property creation. These processes are always, regardless of the particular resources at stake, cultural in the sense that the uses of the commons are regulated through cultural norms and contracts, but also that they carry profound cultural and social meanings for those who use them. Finally, the commonalities and heterogeneities of these protest movements are analysed as ‘working in common’, where the resistance to extraction in itself represents a process of commoning.

If you have a subscription you can find the final version at Cultural Studies, but you can also download a post-print version of the article for free here Dahlin and Fredrikson Post-print version.



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.


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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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