What are the Commons anyway? Some answers and thoughts from ECC 2013 in Berlin

I’ve already written some of the things I heard and discussed at the 2013 Economics and Commons Conference in Berlin, from weak arguments against copyright to a few practical questions and suggestions to all commoners. This third post is about one crucial problem mentioned in Berlin: “getting people out there to know the very concept of Commons”. Here is a rearranged synthesis (1), which you’re welcome to reformat (2), of answers and comments to this question from the notes I took during the Conference:


  • ??? the right way / place to take decisions is where you bear the consequences of those decisions
  • Silke Helfrich:
    • Commons is not much “Do It Yourself”, as much as “Do It with Others”
    • Commons is not/ is beyond resource. It is a process
    • Go beyond openness. Openness is overstated. It is means to an end. It is a rule to guarantee fairness in the commons. Openness does not guarantee that things will remain open.
  • Barbara Unmüßig: one of the most important characteristics of Commoners is the ability to listen
  • Stefano Rodotà:
    • A new rationality is emerging. When referred to planetary Commons, citizenship doesn’t divide people
    • Such a citizenship doesn’t separate people; it is a bundle they carry to access resources
    • Person fundamental rights and common goods are mutually interrelated. Common goods are produced by fundamental rights.
    • The right attitude to commons is a caleidoscope, not a unitary lens. Let’s avoid:
      • naturalistic view of the commons, as Latin American Constitutions do
      • authoritarian risks
      • mystic approaches. If all is a Commons, nothing is a Commons
    • Human Genome is a patrimony of humanity, not a Commons. Things legally outside the market are not necessarily Commons
  • Maristella Svampa: Common goods are NOT strategic resources nor commodities. Those are market terms
  • Jem Bendell:
    • monetary critique and transformation must be at the center of the action for the Commons
    • “vegetarians, non vegetarians… we are all banktarians. We all live off bank debt”
    • “the monetary system influences the way we experience life”
    • “Euro, dollar… they’re all the same thing: bank-issued debt”
  • Ugo Mattei: Commons need to lose money, and pay back with social value. The exact opposite of corporations
  • ??? One problem often debated is “mere” reproduction of knowledge. But there is also another crucial one, that is production. Let’s look more to production rights, not just reproduction rights
  • ??? I feel uneasy when hearing “obligation” to share instead of right to share. It reminds me of the obligation to vote from some dictators
  • Soma Kishore Parthasarathy: all these things you’re proposing… they already happen in many Indian villages. Because only women do all the work, and have no other choice but doing it
  • Mayo Fuster Morell during the Knowledge Stream: we should explore why in certain areas, eg social networks, diaspora, there are no commons. And why 40 of 50 people here are male
  • (from me) @jembendell asked: why do you work on Commons? My own answer: it makes sense. Quite more than the alternatives


Some perplexities

(From M. Vieira): infrastructures are EMINENTLY social system. This characteristic can be akin to Commons, but important differences remain. For example, M. Vieira (?) said pointed out that:

  • water management can very seldom be totally local, because systems are interconnected
  • competition in water or electricity can’t work, and you can’t transform the corresponding infrastructures in Commons, because they were develope/designed to regain money in 30/40 years.

Speaking of Knowledge Commons, somebody pointed out that:

  • in making a decent book there is a lot of industry. the lonely genious vision only work for bloggers, who are a TINY part of what is publishing.
  • the prepaid publishing model is limited. It works only in certain cases, for example scientists who want recognition.


..and some final food for thought from Andreas Weber

(that is, the points I enjoyed the most from his keynote):

  • All revolutions I attempted in my life turned out to be reforms. My life is iterations: sometimes boring ones.
  • Enlivenment is more than sustainability
  • if you have a living being you have meaning. NOT information. Information => objectifying, objectivity.


  1. as I said, this is a transcription from my hand written notes. Between me not being a stenographer and the ~3 weeks passed before I could type everything in my computer, I lost some names and it is entirely possible that I unwillingly mixed other names, or lost something important here and there. If this is the case, please DO explain it in the comments, thanks!
  2. maybe all the bullets points above could be the basis for a slideshow on “What are the Commons”, and maybe they would be even clearer and more effective in that format. If you can do it, please do it! Just mention the source and the URL, thanks.

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