Common Places. Theses on the commons

Lieven De Cauter

0. Common means: what is shared. Sharing is ‘commoning’. The commons is shared space, shared property or shared use.  
(As the Chinese ideogram for common shows - two separate hands eating or drinking from the same bowl:)
1. The Common is under threat. Both Nature and Culture are under severe pressure. As the common is under threat, we become aware of the common.
2. We have to reinvent the common. The dichotomy between private and public has obscured it. To approach the common we have to start from its oblivion, its abolition, its forsakenness.
3. The common is what is neither public nor private. The common is what belongs to everybody and to nobody (like air and language).
4. The common space is not necessarily a political space. The ‘polis’ is always something else than the community.
5. The universal commons are generic, ‘commons without community’ (nature and culture as such); the particular commons are practices of commoning by a specific community. What is at stake in a certain sense in the 21st century is to defend the universal commons (in particular the eco-system, the freedom of seeds, open source knowledge etc) by the proliferation of particular practices of commoning.
6. Modernity opens up with the enclosure of the (spatial) commons.  Capitalism begins with the original appropriation: the stealing of the common and the criminalisation of the expropriated (as Marx has shown at length in the last chapter of volume 1 of Capital).
7. Not only capitalism erased the commons, but also communism: everything was nationalized. Both capitalism and communism abolish the category of the common.
8. ‘Original appropriation’ is not only the original act of capitalism, it is ongoing. The privatisation of seeds is allegorical for this eternal expropriation of the common.
9. As enclosures are ongoing, practices of commoning are ongoing too. Expropriation is followed by re-appropriations (squatting, open source, sharing). In every place where we really start to share there is a moment of commoning.
10. Scale is one of the big problems of the commons: direct democracy, self-organisation, bottom-up practices etc, are ill equipped for the larger scales. In the age of globalisation problems play at a planetary scale.
11. (International) Law is one of the best defences of the (Universal) Commons. ‘The charter of the forest’ (appendix of the Magna Carta) is there to prove it.
(Peter Linebaugh, the Magna Carta Manifesto).
12. The spatial common is temporary, more a moment than a space (a moment of space). More a use, than a property.
13. The beauty of the common is its sheer potentiality. It becomes actual in every practice of sharing and re-appropriation. We re-appropriate the common every time we reclaim the streets.
14. The struggle for the commons will be one of the most important struggles of the 21st century (if not the utmost important).
15. The urban commons as object (open space, urban void, squat, terrain vague) is something else than the common as process (the decision making on how to act on this object). The unity of form and content is the beauty of many actions under the sign of the commons (self organised urban gardening for instance).
16? Is the struggle for the commons not too urgent for the slowness and weakness of direct, radical democracy? (Or do we have to trust the swarm intelligence of the human herd?) 
(Prague 03.04.14)  
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