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The History And Evolution Of The Commons

Michel Bauwens, June 2018

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Summary :

Is it possible to historicize the commons, to describe the evolution of the commons over time? This is our first draft and preliminary attempt to do so.

To do this we must of course define the commons. We generally agree with the definition that was given by David Bollier and others and which derives from the work of Elinor Ostrom and the researchers in this tradition.

In this context, the commons has been defined as a shared resource, which is co-owned and/or co-governed by its users and/or stakeholder communities, according to its rules and norms. It’s a combination of a ‘thing’, an activity, commoning as the maintenance and co-production of that resource, and a mode of governance. It is distinguished from private and public/state forms of managing resources.

But it’s also useful to see commoning as one of four ways of distributing the fruits of a resource, i.e. as a ‘mode of exchange’, which is different from the more obligatory state-based redistribution systems, from markets based on exchange, and from the gift economy with its socially-pressured reciprocity between specific entities. In this context, commoning is pooling/mutualizing a resource, whereby individuals exchange with the totality of an eco-system.