Occasionally my amateur interest in the history of the commons pokes through – for example while exploring the history of eating in public, questioning the present government’s attitude to public ownership, reflecting on the system of gebuurten developed in medieval European cities of Belgium and the Netherlands, or simply delighting in the history of neighbours.
Perhaps we'll all be thinking and writing more on the topic, on the grounds that
‘It is almost a law of contemporary social life that the more commons are attacked, the more they are celebrated.’
This quote comes from an article in a special supplement on the commons, published by the good folk at Community development journal. Here's the blurb:
All articles permanently free to download
Mary McDermott, Tom O’Connell and Órla O’Donovan
This Special Supplement aims to introduce the efflorescence of commons activism and thinking to people who are new to the old idea. In addition to celebrating how the commons can enrich our perceptions of the present and possible, the contributors caution us to look critically at contemporary discourses on the commons, recognizing how some actually reinforce capitalism, albeit with a human face. The articles demonstrate a high degree of reflexivity, along with clear and critical assessments by commoners themselves of their own projects. In articles focused on contemporary urban, water, knowledge and traditional music commons in contexts ranging from South Africa, Bolivia and Ireland, commoning right here, right now is considered. True to the spirit of the movement itself, many of the debates taking place between commoners with different ‘common senses’ are explored.
The collection helped me appreciate how so many of the arguments and warnings about threats to the commons were offered by Ivan Illich years ago. It also gives us all a chance to reassess the relation between the commons and community development: could we have the latter without the former? As Maria Mies points out, reflecting on the village where she grew up,
‘no real community could exist without commons. All persons in the community were responsible to maintain and care for the commons, even children. This responsibility was not enforced by formal law, because it was evident to everybody that people's survival and subsistence depended on the commons and on free communal work.’
So take a look. Here you can have a think about paradoxes in the current momentum behind open access academic publishing, observing Orla O’Donovan’s ‘search for cracks in the pay walls that commodify and enclose much publicly subsidised research that should be common knowledge.’ You can reflect on the perception of traditional Irish music as ‘an artistic and cultural commons’ and the ‘annexation’ of sites of performance by the commerce of copyright. (Or as I did, just ponder how an author can describe himself as ‘radically rooted’).
I recall that Illich’s works were out of print for some years in the UK, presumably because there was ‘no market’ for them. Perhaps that’s as strong an indicator as we need for the counter-productive mismatch between the cultural commons and late capitalism.