Contemplating the More-than-Human Commons

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* Article: Contemplating the More-than-Human Commons. by ZACK WALSH. The Arrow Volume 5, Issue 1 | March 2018

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Zack Walsh:

"THE STERN REVIEW on The Economics of Climate Change claims that reducing emissions by more than 1 percent annually would generate a severe economic crisis, and yet, climate analysts tell us we need to reduce carbon emissions by 5.3 percent annually to limit global warming to 2°C. Moreover, there is no evidence that decoupling economic growth from environmental pressures is possible, and although politicians tout technical solutions to climate crisis, efficiency gains from technology usually increase the absolute amount of energy consumed. The stark reality is that capitalist accumulation cannot continue—the global economy must shrink.

Fortunately, there exist many experiments with non-capitalist modes of assessing and exchanging value, sharing goods and services, and making decisions that can help us transition to a more sustainable political economy based on principles of degrowth. One of the best ways to generate non-capitalist subjects, objects, and spaces comes from systems designed to manage common pool resources like the atmosphere, ocean, and forests. Commons-based systems depend upon self-governance and reciprocity. People rely on and take responsibility for each other, finding mutually beneficial ways to fulfill their needs. This also allows communities to define the guidelines and incentives for guiding their own economic behavior, affording people more autonomy and greater opportunity for protecting and cultivating shared values. Commons-based systems cut across the private/public, market/ state dichotomy and present alternative economic arrangements defined by communities." (


The More-than-Human Commons

Zack Walsh:

"In other words, there are no commons without commoners to enact them. From an enactive perspective, commons are not objects, but actions generated by many different actors in relationship. Whereas the prior notions assume that individuals need to be regulated and punished to prevent overconsumption (an assumption known as the tragedy of the commons), an enactive perspective on commons conceives the individual in relation to everyone (and everything) involved in co-managing the more-thanhuman commons. It therefore diverges from the prior two notions in assuming a relational epistemology rather than being premised on a liberal epistemology based on the individual. From a Buddhist perspective, one could say that the commons emerges co-dependently with a field of objects, forces, and passions entangling the human and nonhuman, living and non-living, organic and machinic.

The more-than-human commons thus does not dualistically separate the material and immaterial commons, the commons (as object) from the commoners (as subjects), nor does it separate humans from nonhumans. Instead, the commons are always understood as a morethan-human achievement, neither wholly produced by nature or culture.

Commoning becomes, as Bayo Akomolafe points out, a material-discursive doing shaped by practices and values that engage humans with their environments. In Patterns of Commoning, David Bollier and Silke Helfrich argue that all commons exceed conceptual distinctions, because they are not things; rather, they are another way of being, thinking about, and shaping the world. Commoning is about sharing the responsibility for stewardship with the intent to construct a fair, free, and sustainable world—a goal that is all the more important given the unequal distribution of risks posed by intensifying climate change." (

Creating interspecies commons-based subjectivities

Zack Walsh:

"Commoning not only creates sustainable systems—it also has the potential to birth entire new lifeways and worldviews premised on relationality and reciprocity. It generates worlds where we commune with each other and with the environment, as if every object is also a subject—a being worthy of our respect. To avoid civilizational collapse, Bhikkhu Bodhi says, we need to accept a relational worldview that affirms subjectivity across all life forms and indeed the cosmos itself, so that we view everything as a subject with its own experience and intrinsic value. To move beyond the notion of the commons as an object, either of nature (material) or culture (immaterial), one must critically examine present-day definitions of nature and culture—what we may alternatively call nature-cultures—and reassess the human-nature relationship in light of its history and our contemporary predicament." (

Hyper-Objects are distributed, non-local assemblages of human and nonhuman objects

Zack Walsh:

"In contrast to the separation and management of nature by humans, an alternative relational understanding of nature-cultures has emerged from discourses on the Anthropocene. Enlightenment views of Man and Nature are clearly breaking down and new lenses have appeared that view the Earth as a product of civilizational history, as much as natural history, and that view humanity as inhabited by other species and technologies. Posthumanists like Donna Haraway and Rosi Braidotti as well as new materialists and process thinkers like Jane Bennett, Karen Barad, and Bruno Latour have become particularly interested in understanding the co-production of nature-cultures.

For instance, Timothy Morton uses “mesh” as an apt metaphor for the entanglement of human and nonhuman objects, whether at the micro-level of gut bacteria or the macro-level of climate change.11 The defining environmental objects of our time, he argues, are hyper-objects which are distributed, non-local assemblages of human and nonhuman objects." (

Relational worldviews and ontologies are increasingly relevant for our understanding of humanity’s role in the Anthropocene; towards an Ethics of Intrasubjectivity

Zack Walsh:

"It is not surprising then that relational worldviews and ontologies like those found in Buddhism are increasingly relevant for our understanding of humanity’s role in the Anthropocene. The complexity of life in the Anthropocene not only questions the relationship between humans and nature; it also demands the development of an ethics that respects the dignity and agency of nonhuman actors, both living and nonliving. Extending commoning beyond peer-to-peer economics, so that we extend care to every being, becomes possible if it is enacted by commoners who follow an ethics of what I call intra-subjectivity. An ethics of intra-subjectivity demands understanding that nature is not an element separated from us, but co-produced in our daily interactions." (

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