Four conceptual notions on the commons (By Helfrich and Bollier)

In their keynote address for the Economics and the Commons Conference Silke Heilfreich (and David Bollier) propose 4 interesting conceptual points to fine tune a more coherent definition of the commons that they see is missing.

The 4 points are explained in more detailed in the post / video of the presentation but I will summarize them here to help us adding in preparing our own work and seminar:

1. The commons is not a resource, but a process.  Their point suggest that resources are not simply “ commons”. A commons is a relational quality that depends on actions and decisions taken by a group of people.  The implication for this is to  focus more attention on the processes – commoning – and not on the “resources”.

2. the common categorization of the commons needs an upgrade. in their view the common classification and distinction made between categories such as (material) commons and “cultural commons” or “digital commons” (immaterial commons) is unhelpful as analytical strategy. Their view is that every commons has a material and knowledge basis. There are no ‘pure knowledge commons’ as much as the ‘natural commons’ are inseparable from the knowledge that is needed to manage and steward them.

3. Every commons needs protection (or: going beyond openness).  An access rule in the commons is mostly a means to make sure, that there is fairness in the commons. They propose that we need to recognize that openness does not guarantee that things will remain open.

4.  The commons does not “scale up,” but rather slowly crystallizes instead of being obsessed with “scaling up” isolated things they see the challenge laying more in unleash the potential of the commons through commons-enabling infrastructure, laws, platforms and technologies that support things to extend horizontally and interconnect.

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