1st Global Commons Forum - Korea

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* Conference: The 1st Global Commons Forum. 2019 Theme: The Great Transformation of the 21st Century: Towards Commons of Self-Sustaining Eco-Communities. Organized by the Karl Polanyi Institute Asia in Seoul, South Korea; October 2 (Wednesday), 2019


Place: Multipurpose Hall at Collabo Bay, Seoul Innovation Park, Seoul, Korea. Sponsored by The City of Seoul. In collaboration with Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation, and Hyeng-Joon Park of the Global Political Economy Institute.


The Global Commons Forum hosted by Karl Polanyi Institute Asia and sponsored by the City of Seoul provides a platform for a broad range of social activists and theorists who seek alternatives to both libertarian capitalism and state capitalism. The obsession of the corporate-government complex with infinite economic growth over the last two centuries has been destroying the natural as well as social environments to such an extent that climate change threatens the extinction of humanity; extreme economic inequality, spawning social divisions and distrust, rips our society apart. Our social and ecological crisis requires a fundamental transformation of global civilization into more sustainable, humane, and equitable one. The forum is designed to explore whether commons can be an overarching practical as well as theoretical concept underpinning this kind of civilization. Please, join us and share your ideas, thoughts, and wisdom to make our world better.

Global Commons Forum Steering Committee

  • Michel Bauwens (P2P Foundation)
  • Hyeng-Joon Park (Global Political Economy Institute)
  • Gibin Hong (Karl Polanyi Institute Asia)


Our Motto: “Life, Liberty, and Commons”.

Gibin Hong:

It is long overdue that we search for new principles of civilization, for the existing one is blindly leading to an undeniable catastrophe. John Locke, one of the designers of modern world, put forward the three supreme principles: life, liberty, and property. He put most special emphasis on the last one, for he thought the protection of private property was the best and only way to secure the other two. Three centuries after him, however, we are living in the world which is almost the exact opposite to the Lockean ideals. Absolute majority of humanity is suffering from gnawing economic insecurity and grotesque inequalities, and surrendering their autonomy and vitality to those who wield economic power. And the impending ecological disaster of colossal scale is endangering not just the survival of humanity but the biosphere of the Earth as a whole. As it now stands, liberty is for only a few, and life is secured to no one.

Neither life nor liberty we can afford to give up. And a civilization only deserves the name when everyone is able to fully enjoy both. Hence, we propose commons as an alternative principle of organizing our collective activities. One’s private property may ensure the individual’s own life and liberty; our commons is both indispensable and the most certain way to secure our life and our liberty, collectively. We believe that the threats to our collective life and liberty in the 21st century necessitate a new kind of response from us, and that the practice and institution of commons will be one of the most promising ones. While the notion of “property” has ushered in the modern society where every individual’s life and liberty is guaranteed in formality, we believe the “commons” will be one of the fastest vehicles to a new society where full life and real liberty is realized for all.

This awakening is already with us. There are so many of us who keep innovating commons to make it reliable source for producing and allocating what is needed for our Good Life. Also there are researchers who endeavor to establish the concept and theory of commons as a mode of self-provisioning, complementing and in some cases even replacing the modes of state and/or business. We humbly wish to invite all these people. We will pool our practical and theoretical knowledge and turn this ever growing momentum of commons into a formidable social force of global scale. The Earth is commons. Life is commons. Our forum will be a fertile ground on which to grow the idea and vision of a new world, flourishing in life, liberty, and commons for all."

This Year’s Theme

Michel Bauwens:

The City of Seoul, like other major global cities, is also faced with the challenge of profound changes that are sweeping the whole globe. Several contexts are key to understand the situation.

The first context is ecology. The impending climate crisis has grave implications for the availability of various resources, both in global and local dimensions. And the current neoliberal trade regime will certainly be untenable due to the enormous amount of human footprint it entails. Therefore, it has become a practically serious question to ask, how local units such as cities and provinces can sustain their ‘metabolic system’ in the future. Where and in what way will they be able to secure the provision of food, water, and other necessities that are indispensable for the survival of complex societies?

The second context is social justice. As inequalities never cease to grow, there is taking place a sea change in politics both nationally and globally. And we are witnessing ominous symptoms here and there, implying the upheaval might be someday jeopardizing democracy and other values modern society cherishes so much. Many countries in the West are already in turmoil, and Asian countries are getting more and more susceptible to social unrest as their engine of economic growth are malfunctioning. The third context is the possibility of ‘cosmo-local production’ which is a combination of global knowledge sharing with substantially relocalized production where it makes sense. Indeed, the rise of digital society and its “hyperconnectivity” has set the stage for the local and global knowledge sharing. It is our belief that the practice of knowledge commons will radically change how and by/for whom various productive infrastructures are organized and utilized, and the local units like cities and provinces could be a dynamic and autonomous locus for productive activities.

Two aspects are of importance in reference to the future development of this type of ‘cosmo-local’ productive networks as well as the societal systems that are built on them.

Mutualization (also called common-ing), organized around the social institution that is the commons, has been an indispensable elements for societies and civilizations long before the Machine Age began, but will also play an essential part in our endeavor of maintaining a complex society (rich in human services and ecological regenerative capacity) with substantially lower footprints. Literally, commons is what permits civilisations to maintain themselves. Therefore, the commons is the first possibility that cities and provinces should investigate in their search for the strategy of building resilient provisioning systems. Seoul has been a pioneer since it proclaimed itself to be a ‘Sharing City’ many years ago and initiated the preliminary phase of the transformation in this direction. However, its efforts have had some limitations. First, the concept of ‘Sharing City’ was biased toward ‘platform business’. Second, it was exclusively focusing on the redistribution of existing services, not promoting production activities per se.

Intelligent ‘subsidiarity of material production’, what we call ‘cosmo-local’ production, is actually the fusion of two components. First is the global networks of knowledge commons that allow everyone free access to technical knowledge and participation in the co-production of knowledge. Second is the collaborative eco-systems of various producers with greatest compatibility with the bioregional realities of cities and provinces. These two elements had independently evolved, but the recent development of ‘distributed manufacturing techniques’ is making the convergence of the two paths very much feasible.

We aim to start a process of examining the ‘basic metabolic needs’ of Seoul as a city. At the same time, we will probe the potential of the city by listening to the people who have already been engaging themselves in the commons-oriented activities in the city.

Last but not the very least, the context of geopolitical changes and crises of the nation-states is also relevant, because it compels many global cities to shift to relocalization of their economy, which is illustrated by the Barcelona Pledge. Those cities are ardently searching for the way of providing basic products and services in the context of their bioregional watersheds. We should not be surprised by this because, until the early 20th century, many cities provided 60% of their food needs in the cities and near vicinity. This transition is already well under way for organic agriculture and renewable energy, and there has been a remarkable growth of redistributive urban commons for nearly all provisioning systems, as an earlier study of the commons in the city of Ghent (Belgium) illustrated. This conference will also look at pre-eminent examples of this shift, as they take place in various provisioning systems. "