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Growing International Interest in the Commons

A manifesto from the World Social Forum and a conference in Sweden.

Another sign of growing international interest in the commons: the World Social Forum has launched an initiative, “Reclaim the Commons.” The project aims “to popularize the notion of commons by opening a participatory space which allows us to share and discuss ideas and initiatives concerning the future of the commons.”

At a January 2009 meeting, the WSF, meeting in Belém do Pará, Brazil, adopted a manifesto to begin the conversation. The manifesto is available in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and German – although, I confess, the English version could be improved. (If you can lend your translation services, contact Frederic Sultan at contact@bienscommuns.org.)

The gist of the manifesto is that the neoliberal state and marketplace are enclosing countless shared resources, and that we, the commoners, need to reclaim our commons. The manifesto reads: “The privatization and the merchantilisation of the vital elements for humanity and needed by the planet, are stronger than ever…. The prosperity of all and the conservation of the Earth are being sacrificed to the short-term financial profit of someone.”

Noting the calamitous failures of the neoliberal state and “free markets,” the WSF initiative seeks to enlist the help of a wide variety of constituencies and ordinary citizens who want to reclaim, protect and re-create the commons. The website for the Reclaiming the Commons project continues:

“The Manifesto is just a starting point. Everybody is invited to critically comment on it and to share his/her visions, ideas and commons-related practices. It goes without saying, that the Manifesto (closely) refers to numerous texts and ideas that have been produced during the last few years.

“We cordially invite everybody to sign the Manifesto, to discuss it and to spread the word.

“The initiatives and practices concerning the various aspects of the Commons are numerous and of prodigious diversity. Farmers, educators, patients, technicians, activists, scientists, artists, parents, etc., they all fight daily for the Commons, with imagination and creativity.

The objective of this campaign is to bring those initiatives together, to multiply their impacts, by creating new ties among the commoners worldwide, both in cyberspace and in person. Our hope is to facilitate the genesis of new ideas and mobilizations – as free, creative, and diverse as possible.”

If you wish to sign the manifesto, visit the website here.

Another international development on the commons is a conference, What is the Commons, that will be held in October 10-11 at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. Here is the prospectus:

“In the shadow of the global crisis of capitalism, the common, somehow obliterated in the recent past, has emerged as an indispensable and central notion. The conference addresses this notion both as a real movement and as an already present horizon, a dynamic principle, for societal life. It is a critical topic today, not only because the public, administrated by the state, is reduced to expendable assets for regulating a supposedly self-regulating machine called Market, but more importantly because the emerging forms of the common impose themselves with an unprecedented acuity and in opposition to the doxa of the private property.

“The common refers not only to primary resources, such as water or ecological conditions on a planetary level, but it is at the same time a political force that traverses diverse fields of tension such as art and culture, law and gender relations. The question ‘What is the Common?’ is addressed as a real agenda that conditions the thought. The conference is a program that extends over 4 years. Each year will treat two themes. The conference 2009 will welcome papers related to the following two axes:

1. The Common and the Economy
Which are the specific emerging forms of the common today and what defines its relation to the material conditions of production of values in contemporary capitalism? Under this axis, both theoretical discussions and case-specific investigations in areas such as autonomous popular organisations, regional movements or global changes in one specific economic sector are welcome.

2. The Philosophical Understanding of what the Common Is
The common has since Plato’s Republic been a central question for the philosophical thinking. What is the relation or non-relation between the common and the totality of social relations? In which form and based upon what ontological or existential categories does it emerge? What is the difference between the common as the name of a real movement and the nostalgies of the return to a simple life?

For more details, including how to propose a paper for the conference, visit http://www.museion.gu.se/english/News_and_events/News/News_detail/?contentId=874113