Commonism and Capabilities

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* Article: Commonism and Capabilities. Diego Lanzi. Special issue: Escaping Wonderland. Ephemera, volume 23(2), 2023



"The paper discusses how to address commons management and preservation issues without relying on market institutions. In doing so, we adopt a Marxian viewpoint and endorse a contemporary political theory known as commonism. Firstly, we explain why commons are not commodities and introduce commonism's main pillars. Secondly, we outline main influences of Marx's thought on Amartya Sen's capability approach and discuss why Sen's theory can be useful for refining some theoretical aspects of commonism."


See also: On Marx, Sen, and Commons-Based Capabilities

From the conclusion:

"Concluding remarks

This paper addresses the development of post-capitalistic solutions to issues of commons management and preservation based on some capabilities for commons. Individuals participating in and sharing commons sustain social change. When an individual joins a group, and acts collectively for the benefit of the common, he/she generates changing and diverse stimulations which create changing and diverse actions/reactions in other group members. In this way, sharing commons, and working with others for such a result, can yield some important modifications in the way we define and develop our social self and perceive the common. Moreover, individuals actively involved in commons management and preservation focus their everyday activities on achieving the productive/re-productive conditions such that commons can satisfy some collective needs. In doing so, individuals develop their agency by participating in the social creation of living conditions. Productive results are freely accessible to all, and the organization of operating activities is carried out by participants themselves, i.e., participants determine rules of cooperation, decision-making procedures and conflict management mechanisms. Within the circuit of the common, continuous movements are organized to contrast attempts to commodify and capitalize on social invention, integration, mutuality and creative and cooperative forms of social organization (Hoedemækers et al., 2012)."

More information

Hence, the common can be seen as a new paradigm for societal reproduction. Commonism argues that needs-based exchanges take place before production, not ex post as with commodities. Before productive activities are implemented, different wishes and requirements of participants, as well as social conditions and priorities, are communicated, discussed and reconciled using democratic methods. Further, interpersonal relationships of reciprocity along the circuit of the common are usually unconditional (no conditional linking of taking to giving), peer-to-peer and inclusive. Self-selection of voluntary activities ensures truly motivated actions, while cooperation and reciprocity facilitate general relations of inclusion (Neumüller and Meretz, 2019). Our paper suggests that these inclusive relations are more likely to cease if common capabilities are granted and developed along the circuit of the common at different levels."