Circulation of the Commons

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see: Circulation of the Common and Metabolic Commons


In the Circulation of the Commons, Waste is Naturally Recycled

Patrick Bresnihan:

"Maria Mies has written about the importance of this localized circulation of production and consumption as an alternative way of understanding 'waste'. While capitalist modes of production tend to separate the point of production from the point of consumption through the commodity-circuit, commons-based economies incoporate the two, transforming 'waste' into something productive and reproductive (Goldstein 2013; Mies 2001). This is because the value and wealth that circulates through the commons is not transformed into exchange-value - commodities for sale or profit. "Production processes will be oriented towards the satisfaction of needs of concrete local or regional communities and not towards the artificially created demand of an anonymous world market. In such an economy the concept of waste, for example, does not really exist," writes Mies (2001 : 1011). The re-definition and re-circulation of 'waste' is what ensures the productivity of the commons, generating a wealth of use-values rather than a limited number of commodities with market value.

While Mies focuses on the ways waste is re-circulated within the commons as an immediate use-value, it is also the case that waste can be produced that does not have an immediate use. This does not mean it is discarded; things can always become useful or important by being invested somewhere else. You never know when conditions will change and something may be needed or brought into play. In this sense, it may be better to speak of the circulation of surplus rather than waste, and the different ways this surplus becomes invested in or circulated through the commons. In this the work of Bataille and his concept of the 'general economy' can be instructive (Bataille 1991). Rather than analyzing economy from the perspective of production and the management of scarcity, as liberal political economy does, Bataille approaches the economy from the perspective of consumption of wealth and the management of surplus. His economic anthropology of different cultures and civilizations examines how surplus wealth is socialized through forms of ritualistic destruction, lavish consumption or accumulation and war. Bataille does not examine subsistence economies where the expression 'I store my meat in the belly of my brother' carries such significance. This expression conveys the simple idea that by gifting surplus resources to a neighbour in the present, one is effectively investing in the future. In this sense, where the care-practices involved in commoning are more about recognizing material limits that inhere in the commons, the practices involved in circulating surplus relate to the production and store of wealth. As Linebaugh writes: '[t]he commons is not a natural resource exclusive of human relations with it. Like language itself, the commons increases in wealth by use.'(Linebaugh 2012 :21; my italics)." (