Tool #8: Creating, circulating and defending the commons

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Commons are today conceptualised as “the conditions necessary to promote social justice, sustainability and happy lives for all.”[1] A commons can be described as a common pool resource that fulfils people’s needs outside the market and that is sustained by activities of commoning through which an (ideally) heterogeneous group of people actively produces, cares for and reproduces this common pool resource. Commoning involves constantly negotiating and re-negotiating the rules of access and use in order for the commons not to be depleted, but it also involves elements of collective creativity to keep the commons attractive and relevant to the commoners’ present conditions. Commons can for example be housing co-ops, community workshops, a communally maintained park, a shared tool, an open-source software and much else.

In terms of how to conceptualise a commons, it is helpful to picture it as a third category that goes beyond the public and the private. While the public is governed by the state (or its delegates) and the private is decided upon by its owner(s), a commons is decided upon by the non-exclusive group of commoners that takes care of it. In this sense, commons are important also in terms of re-imagining social relations, building community and keeping aspects of life out of the logic of the market.

Acts of commoning can also weave connections between different kinds of commons, a spatially dislocated commons that functions in order to create a mutually supportive web of spaces and activities. This weaving has been described as creating a “circulation of the common”: collectives or associations of people who organise shared resources – including creativity, machinery and other resources into productive ensembles that create more commons and a surplus of resources, which in turn provide the basis for new groups to start nurturing a commons.⁠[2]

Here are a few initial questions to help us get going with considering commons in our practice(s) and lives:

• Where in our projects and in our lives can we use our skills to create commons?
• Where in our projects and in our lives can we use our skills to protect commons from being enclosed by the market?
• Can we design processes, artefacts or communications that support the circulation between commons?
• Can the way we organise make our practice an active node that supports commons and their circulation?
• What areas of our lives – such as housing, energy, food, mobility – can we weave into a commons?

circulationcommons2 Illustration: Caterina Giuliani. Workshop first developed for and with the New Cross Commoners.

Further resources
An introduction to urban commons and their possibilities: Thinking Creatively about Anti-Capitalism: Producing the Urban Commons by Stuart Hodkinson, Andre Puseay and Tom Gillespie. [3]

1 An Architektur. “On the Commons: A Public Interview with Massimo De Angelis and Stavros Stavrides.” E-Flux Journal June-August, no. 17 (May 6, 2010): 1–17.
2 Dyer-Witheford, Nick. “The Circulation of the Common,” 2006.
3 Hodkinson, Stuart, Andre Pusey, and Tom Gillespie. “Thinking Creatively about Anti-Capitalism: Producing the Urban Commons.” presented at the Designing Economic Cultures seminar series, Design Department, Goldsmiths, University of London, November 23, 2011.