Commoning - Three moments

Here we present the commitment of commoning that underlies, and specifically the practice of stewarding that constitutes a commons. has a core commitment to developing the coop-commons economy. Here we describe the commitment of commoning that underlies, and specifically the practice of stewarding that constitutes a commons. Commoning is a transformational politics of dual power, and a radical mode of provisioning means of subsistence and wellbeing in the coop-commons economy. It meshes together with, but is not identical with, the tradition of cooperation that flows from 19th-century radicals like the Rochdale Pioneers, and the widely recognised Coop Values and Principles. For example, see classic coop governance below.

We understand commoning to be a regime of collective practice which has three ‘moments’:

  • provisioning/curating

  • enjoying/mobilising, and

  • stewarding/defending.

This frame is derived from the research of David Bollier & Silke Helfrich. More on B&H below.

Page references below are to Bollier & Helfrich (2019), Free, fair & alive - The resurgent power of the commons, Gabriola Island BC: New Society.

  • Provisioning - Bollier & Helfrich: provisioning through commons (pp 163-200). Involves curating the commoned means of subsistence and wellbeing; making, assembling, curating, cultivating, nurturing them. In, this involves three kinds of digitally mediated spaces: platform spaces, media spaces, venue spaces. This is the sphere of the operational weave of material means; in the material landscape of digital-commons provisioning - which notably includes labour hours.

  • Enjoying - Bollier & Helfrich: the social life of commoning (pp 101-118). Involves mobilising the commoned means; inhabiting, appreciating and celebrating them, weaving with them in everyday life; animating, orienting-to, recognising and acknowledging them. This is the sphere of the mundane, everyday navigating and charting of structures of feeling: the aesthetic landscape of This is where care work basically lives: affiliating and collaborating, mutualising and associating, emotional cadence, re-purposing and revaluing. Etc, etc.

  • Stewarding - Bollier & Helfrich: peer governance through commoning (pp 119-162). Involves visioning and steering the commons: defending and regulating, conserving and evolving, deciding and adjudicating membership and privileges; allocating and disciplining the mobilisation of the commoned means, reviewing and re-framing the practices, establishing the protocols. This is the cultural landscape of commoning: agreements and forms of organisation, frames of language and genre, communications; the ‘dance of knowing and capability’.

Free, fair and alive contains a pattern language at its core. It has three basic divisions (the basis of the schema above); and the pattern language section is prefaced with an aesthetic - Ubuntu - and followed-up with assessments of practical political matters: organising, alliances, etc. The book emerges from a programme of investigation that also produced two significant collections of essays: Wealth of the commons 2012 and Patterns of commoning 2015.

B&H are way more political than Elinor Ostrom. Or rather, the politics of her ground-breaking work is the politics of ‘institutional’ and ‘behavioural’ economics, within a broadly ‘Austrian’ tradition (which includes Hayek, for example). This tradition maintains ownership, exchange and individual strategy at its centre, and thus doesn't fundamentally and fully depart from liberal individualism. Ostrom’s tradition aims for a science-like conceptualisation-from-the-outside of commons-as-systems-of-behaviours (structured as an object of investigation): hence the central role of ‘rules of commons’ (as distinct, for example, from 'patterns' in Bollier & Helfrich). Within her own tradition, Ostrom’s work is radical - see eg Wall 2017 Elinor Ostrom’s rules for radicals. She held that: “a resource arrangement that works in practice can work in theory”. For economic science, that's a radical position!

B&H, on the other hand, adopt commoning as an insurgent, activist politics. As researchers, their investigative perspective is participant-organiser rather than outside-observer; and hence, for example, their formulation of working insights through a somewhat complex pattern-language (and ‘a chorus of voices’), rather than a system of rules (and consensual science). Arguably this is much more systemic and, certainly, more deeply practical than ‘economic science’ can contemplate. B&H emphasise:

the importance of exploring the inner dimensions of commoning as a social form, moving beyond economistic notions of the commons as a mere resource to be managed. Commoning is an attitude, an ethic, an impulse, a need and a satisfaction . .

This is a cue to pay core attention to organising, as a skilled practice, and to care work as a contribution.

Last updated