Commons Circuits of Value

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By Benjamin J. Birkinbine:

"By combining systems theory (Luhmann, 1995), cybernetics (Maturana and Varela, 1998) and Marxist-feminist political economy (Marx 1906; Dalla Costa and James, 1975), De Angelis’s task is to demonstrate how the commons can be understood as a system capable of bringing about a social revolution through ongoing iterations of commoning activity that are reproduced over time. Rather than arguing that such a revolution is imminent, however, he takes an epochal approach by focusing on how an emergent alternative value system like the commons has the potential to bring about a change in social relations. Just as capitalist social relations and subjectivities emerged in the feudal era, De Angelis views the commons as a similarly emergent value system responding to the excesses and exploitative tendencies of capitalism. In the analytical portion of this work, De Angelis (2017) attempts to analyse the commons in the same way that Marx analysed capitalism. This leads him to develop a circuit of commons value, which accounts for the component parts of commons value systems.

In the circuit, an association of people (A) claims collective ownership of their commonwealth (CW), whether the sources of commonwealth are material, immaterial, commodity (C), or non-commodity (NC). This dual relationship between the association – as subjects – and their commonwealth – as objects – constitutes the commons (Cs). Then, through the activity of commoning (cm), which is derived from Linebaugh’s (2008) definition of the term, the commons are reproduced over time. Framing the commons this way not only adds to a growing corpus of scholarship that makes similar claims (Dyer-Witheford, 2006; Hardt and Negri, 2009; Ryan, 2013; Gutierrez-Aguilar, 2014; Singh, 2017), but it also adds critical weight to commoning practices by demonstrating how those activities are capable of bringing about a postcapitalist future.

Commoning, therefore, includes the reproduction of both the objects that comprise the commons as well as subjectivities in which mutual aid, care, trust, and conviviality are reproduced over time. For De Angelis, this commons circuit can couple with capital circuits through the commodity form. His argument is not that these two can and ought to peacefully coexist, but that they do exist. For example, when commoners must interact with the money form of capital, they do so only as a medium of exchange to gain access to the materials necessary to reproduce the commons and themselves over time. As this relates to the digital commons, a free software contributor or user still needs to have access to a computer to code the digital commons or to have access to them. In addition, the programmer will also need to have access to food, water, shelter, and all those things necessary to reproduce her own capacity to code the digital commons over time. These goods may be provided by the welfare state or one’s family but, in the absence of such provision, one would need to intersect with capital circuits to obtain them. However, the extent to which commoners engage with capital circuits is left up to the community of commoners and will vary depending on the specific needs of the community. This framework is useful for understanding the ways in which FLOSS communities relate to their digital commons."