Cultural Commons

By Sanna Marttila and Erling Björgvinsson

Since the commons scholars began to study ‘the information commons’ and ‘the knowledge commons’ in the digital age, instead of the more traditional focus on natural resource management systems, there has been increasing interest to understand what commons could mean in the cultural environment (cf. Hess 2008; Madison et. al 2010; Bertacchini et. al 2012).

Film Production

CC BY by vancouverfilmschool in Flickr

What do we mean when we speak of Cultural Commons? Commons is often referred as to resource or a resource system shared and generated by a group of people that is vulnerable to social dilemmas and that require various mechanisms and rules to be robust and sustainable (Hess & Ostrom 2007). Against this background Cultural Commons can be understood in a myriad of ways (Marttila 2013). First, as cultural artefacts and resources produced, sustained and managed in a commons-like framework (e.g. a set of cultural objects that have been given some form of commons license). Alternatively Cultural Commons can be approached as an environment, system or infrastructure that is shaping the interactions and participations of people and resources around them (organized network with self-governance and persistent institutional arrangements, or distributed, unsteady and temporary networks of alliances). Furthermore the Cultural Commons can be understood as widely as the vast array of created cultures that are expressed and shared by people.

Building upon both theory and practice, this session aims to conceptualize and critically explore the concept of Cultural Commons. The session has two key objectives: To collaboratively map the multifaceted nature of Cultural Commons to define and challenge the concept of cultural commons, and to identify design and user strategies related to commons-like frameworks, seen from cultural perspective (in contraposition to economical, managerial. etc perspective).

In this Cultural Commons session we ask: What are the emerging design practices and tools to collaboratively design  sustainable cultural commons? How to facilitate the growth of emerging public knowledge resources? How the digital networks and cultural resources can be transferred for the public good? What perspectives and actions of infrastucturing (Björgvinsson et. al 2012; Star & Bowker 2006) and commoning (Bollier & Helfrich 2012) can bring to the discussion on Cultural Commons? What are the current and emerging threats of Cultural Commons?

We adopt an interdisciplinary approach and invite participants from various research fields (e.g. cultural studies, social sciences, management and design research) as well as practitioners (artists, designers, activists, producers) to share their insights, research results, projects and practical experiences related to the above questions.

Participation in the seminar sessions requires sending a short contribution to one of the sessions via this form!


Bertacchini, E., Bravo G., Marrelli M., Santagata W. (Eds.) (2012). Cultural Commons. A New Perspective on the Production and Evolution of Cultures. Edward Elgar Publishing.

Bollier, D., & Helfrich, S. (Eds.). (2012). The Wealth of the Commons: A world beyond market and State. Levellers Press.

Björgvinsson, E., Ehn, P., & Hillgren, P.-A. (2012). Agonistic participatory design: working with marginalised social movements. CoDesign, 8(2-3), 127–144. doi:10.1080/15710882.2012.672577

Hess, C. (2008) Mapping the New Commons (July 1, 2008). Available at SSRN.

Hess, C. and E. Ostrom (Eds.) (2007). Understanding Knowledge as Commons. Cambridge, Ma: The  MIT Press.

Madison, Michael J. Frischmann, Brett M.  & Strandburg, Katherine J. (2010) Constructing Commons in the Cultural Environment, 95 CORNELL L. REV. 657.

Marttila, S. (2013) Understanding Cultural Commons (May 26, 2013). Paper presented at The Political Economy of the Commons Seminar at the University of Helsinki.

Star, S. L., & Bowker, G. (2006). How to Infrastructure. In L. A. Lievrouw & S. Livingstone (Eds.), The Handbook of New Media – Student edition (pp. 230–244). Sage Publications, Inc.

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