The International Commons Conference, Berlin, Germany, Nov 1, 2010
An Interpretive Summary by David Bollier
For years the commons has been gaining momentum as a new
paradigm of economics, politics and culture. Its rise can be seen in countless
milieus around the world: among indigenous peoples in Latin America
determined to protect their ecosystems and cultures; among farmers in India
defending the right to share seeds; among Croatians seeking to prevent the
privatization of cherished public spaces; among communities trying to
preventing multinational bottling companies from appropriating local
groundwater; and among diverse digital commoners who are creating
“shareable” resources such as free software, Wikipedia, open educational
resources and open access journals.
Until recently, mainstream political culture has regarded the commons
as an inevitable “tragedy” that results in the over-exploitation of scarce
resources. This has helped make the commons a marginal side-story that
could be safely ignored. But after the “economic crisis” of October 2008, it
has been much harder to dismiss the commons as a tragedy, anachronism
or novelty. It became even harder after the Nobel Prize in Economics was
awarded to Professor Elinor Ostrom, a pioneering scholar of the commons, in
2009. The growth of countless Internet commons has also been a pointed
rebuttal to orthodox economists who regard the market as the only serious
means for generating valuable resources.
For these and other reasons, the commons is increasingly being seen
as a rich seedbed of community empowerment and a template for new types
of fair and sustainable resource management. It offers a way to critique the
failures of neoliberal capitalism while encouraging the development of
innovative policy alternatives.
It was in this context that the Heinrich Böll Foundation – a publicly
financed nonprofit organization affiliated with the German Greens that works
independently with various partners through its 28 worldwide offices –
decided to convene a major international conference on the commons.
Web site of the Heinrich Böll Foundation www.boell.de/en/commons