Commons and a New Global Governance

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* Book: The Commons and a New Global Governance. Edited by Samuel Cogolati and Jan Wouters. Leuven Global Governance series, Elgar, 2018


Foreword by Michel Bauwens; afterword from Tine De Moor


"Given the new-found importance of the commons in current political discourse, it has become increasingly necessary to explore the democratic, institutional, and legal implications of the commons for global governance today. This book analyses and explores the ground-breaking model of the commons and its relation to these debates."


  • 1 Introduction: democratic, institutional and legal implications

of the commons for global governance 1 Samuel Cogolati and Jan Wouters


  • 2 What democracy for the global commons? 20

Pierre Dardot

  • 3 Federal commons 37

Nicolás Brando and Helder De Schutter

  • 4 A (non-)violent revolution? Strategies of civility for the politics

of the common 57 Christiaan Boonen

  • 5 Forget Ostrom: from the development commons to the

common as social sovereignty 78 Pierre Sauvêtre


  • 6 Governance of the global commons: a question of supply and

demand, the answer of polycentricism 102 Rutger Hagen and Christophe Crombez

  • 7 The rule of law and accountability: exploring trajectories for

democratizing governance of global public goods and global commons 130 Maja Groff and Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen

  • 8 Expropriation by definition? Regime complexes, structural

power, and global public goods 160 Thomas R. Eimer

  • 9 Knowledge commons and global governance of academic

publishing 186 Maarja Beerkens


  • 10 The ecology of international law: towards an international

legal system in tune with nature and community? 212 Ugo Mattei

  • 11 From eroding to enabling the commons: the dual movement in

international law 231 Olivier De Schutter

  • 12 International law to save the commons 266

Samuel Cogolati and Jan Wouters

  • 13 Procedure and substance in international environmental law

and the protection of the global commons 291 Jutta Brunnée

  • 14 Conclusion: is the governance of the commons a model for a

new global governance? 322 Martin Deleixhe


From the foreword by Michel Bauwens:

"In his influential book, The Great Transformation, Karl Polanyi describes a fundamental double movement that has traversed the history of industrial capitalism, which is also referred to as the ‘Lib-Lab’ pendulum. With the global system understood as a combination of a Capital system, a State system, and an ‘Imagined Community’, that is, the Nation, Polanyi showed how phases when the market forces prevailed at the cost of increasing ecological and social instability were alternated with periods where the pendulum swung back and social forces mobilized, driving the state to rein in the free market economy.

It seems quite clear that this mechanism no longer functions as it once did. Despite a massive growth of social movements from the right and the left, social and ecological progress remains limited. The impending challenges posed, inter alia, by climate change, ecological and resource crises demand new approaches. The reason that the pendulum logic no longer seems applicable is, in all likelihood, that on the one hand, the new neoliberal global system today relies on a financialized transnational capital, coupled with global private platforms, whose global functional governance is threatening the very sovereignty of state actors; and, on the other, that the inter-state system is rather weak, pervaded by rivalries that preclude more united global action.

Part of the solution might be to scale-up the double movement to the global level. A vital question then becomes, what kind of processes or institutions might create sufficient countervailing influence, and alternative global governance systems, to rebalance the global system?

This volume seeks to answer just that conundrum, by providing an in-depth analysis of what is likely to drive this rebalancing – the commons. Given the current context, it is vital to start researching this topic at the global level, as well as to revisit previous work on the commons, like that of Elinor Ostrom, who has focused on their local equivalent. For the last 20 years, we have seen emerging, in particular, global knowledge commons, for example in the form of global open source communities, which are composed of global contributive communities, and usually accompanied by democratic ‘FLOSS Foundations’ (non-profit foundations involved in open and free software projects). Such communities are operating on a transnational scale, and are often also co-evolving with global entrepreneurial coalitions that operate in the marketplace around these commons. At the local level, we also witness the rise of urban and bioregional material commons, which are reconceiving the major provisioning systems (food, energy, transport, housing), on the basis of new logics such as contributive models of democracy. The city of Ghent in Belgium, for example, has been conducting a pioneering study on the functioning of these urban commons and the necessity for public-commons cooperation and partnerships. Global and shared open design depositories for vital common infrastructures are now on the agenda, perhaps driven by coalitions of such cities. It is, therefore, unsurprising that more and more voices are calling for a reassessment of global resources – for example, natural resource commons – as global commons. For example, the Reporting 3.0 project has created a ‘Global Threshold and Allocations Council’, which looks at resource availability and sustainability to determine how much of a resource could be used on a global scale without endangering their accessibility for future generations, thereby putting biocapacity accountability on the agenda. Proposals like the Skytrust, suggested by Peter Barnes, which would consider the atmosphere as a commons, have been circulating for more than a decade, proposing ‘cap and dividend’ schemes for the allocation of these kinds of resources. But how will all this function and interact with the international system, along with powerful global multinational corporate players? Where will we find the social forces to push through these necessary reforms of the global system?

The time has come for researchers and scientists to focus their efforts on potential global governance mechanisms for the commons, existing or to come. This is precisely what has inspired this volume and why it should be considered a significant milestone in the study of the commons at the global level."