Common Property vs Public Property

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Sharing Private Property vs. Commons vs. Public Property

From Natalia Fernández, translated by Steve Herrick:

"Municipal goods and services are not “commons,” and rental vehicle from a company-owed fleet is not “collaborative.” Confusing things only can lead to disillusionment and disappointment.

Anglo culture and the absence of public policies in the US tended to distort the terms “commons” and collaborative consumption/”sharing.” Municipal bicycle or car-sharing services, even though they may be shared in the sense that there is one vehicle and many users, don’t create any kind of commons, nor are they collaborative consumption. They are mere extensions of transportation services, no different from other public utilities when they are publicly owned, or from a car-rental company when privately owned.

The “commons,” that which is communal, is goods that belong to a community, a group of real people, a demos, that manages it jointly and directly. Public property is something else: it is State property.

But, isn’t public property, by definition, the common property of all citizens? Wouldn’t municipal public goods be, by definition, “communal?” No. Publicly-owned goods are managed through specific institutions that decide how they are used and where the profits go. Citizens don’t take part directly in management and decisions about these goods and their use. They are not communal.

The municipal bus business of any city can be a publicly-owned good, property of city hall, or of the wider region. But it is not a communal good. The classic example of communal goods would be the common lands of many towns, collectively owned by their users, who directly manage their use. The transportation business could be part of the urban commons if it was, simply, a cooperative of users.

The “sharing economy” or collaborative consumption exists when the users share use of goods, while maintaining private ownership. If city hall or a company makes cars or bicycles publicly available (charging a rental fee) there’s no collaborative consumption. “Bike sharing” would be when you share the use of your bike(s) with others through a system of use management. If no one shares their personal property, there’s no “sharing” at all. In most municipal “biking” or “car-sharing” services, the bikes belong to a company or city hall itself. There is no collaborative consumption, but rather, hourly rental." (

Common Property vs. Public Property

Aras Ozgun:

"‘‘Public’’ has been one of those theoretical devices that defined socialist alternative visions in their opposition to capitalism across all theoretical fields, but which was actually a product of eighteenth-century liberal governmentality. ‘‘Public’’ becomes the master signifier of socialism in its opposition to ‘‘private property,’’ but it still carries a reference to ‘‘ownership’’ relations. ‘‘Public property’’ is everyone’s ‘‘capital,’’ but it is still ‘‘capital’’ in the sense that it is a part of the restricted economy and its ‘‘use,’’ or ‘‘productivity,’’ is still restricted with the terms imposed by ‘‘public ownership’’ and limits of the definition of ‘‘public.’’ For example, you may have to be a ‘‘citizen,’’ a ‘‘taxpayer,’’ or even a taxpaying citizen dwelling in a specific neighborhood to use the ‘‘public education’’ provided by the state or city. ‘‘Public’’ never denotes ‘‘everybody’’; it always signifies a limit set by a certain social, linguistic, or jurisprudential criterion, refers exclusively to a specific population. As such, it not only always excludes ‘‘somebody’’ and creates outsiders, but also abstracts a ‘‘majority will’’ out of a shared social situation. In this respect, the term ‘‘public’’ does not undo the specific set of social relations around ‘‘property’’ (or dispose the restrictions stemming from ownership) but delegates these relations to an abstract collective body.

Hardt’s and Roggero’s rejection of ‘‘public property’’ for the sake of a ‘‘communist project’’ brings the displacement of the term ‘‘public’’ from its hegemonic status of expressing an abstract collective will/body/thing. Therefore, the rejection of ‘‘public property’’ within the critique of political economy invites a novel political logic, which can now be conceived without having reference to the political terminology of liberal democracy. ‘‘Common’’ is not only ‘‘not property,’’ but it is also ‘‘not public’’; it signifies a collective social form that is different from the ‘‘public’’*/it doesn’t ‘‘substitute’’ the ‘‘public’’ but transcends it. Such a theoretical intervention allows us to speak a political language that is not structured with the binary opposition imposed by classical liberal and socialist discourses, and thus makes it possible for us to imagine a different form of ‘‘collectivity.’’ (