Commons Rising

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= two different initiatives, a course by David Bollier, and a action platform for commons building, by George Por and friends

The Course

  • Course: The Commons Rising. SOCI-42 / Spring 2010. Amherst College, David . Bollier, Visiting Lecturer

"The commons has long been regarded as a side-theme of English history and a cautionary fable about the over-exploitation of shared resources (“the tragedy of the commons”). In recent years, however, the commons has been rediscovered as a versatile paradigm of self-governance and resource management. In circumstances as varied as open source software, Wikipedia, ocean fisheries, indigenous cultures, fresh water supplies and public spaces -- and in countries from Brazil and India to Germany and the United States -- self-organized communities are developing their own commons as practical alternatives to markets and government. Some see the commons as a way to challenge the privatization and commodification of shared resources (“enclosures”); others see it as a practical tool for re-imagining governance and ecological stewardship in the face of market and government failures. Still others see the commons as a way to reintegrate the psychic and cultural wounds of modernity.

This course will survey the political and economic history of the commons, its strengths and limitations over the centuries, and its burgeoning contemporary manifestations. We will be guided by the writings of Elinor Ostrom, Peter Linebaugh, Yochai Benkler, Lawrence Lessig, Peter Barnes, Lewis Hyde and David Bollier as well as by a range of films, essays and Web resources. The course will have direct conversations with policy experts, academics and activists who are at the forefront of commons work, and confront the ambiguities and perplexities of this still-emerging realm of thought and action."

Syllabus & Bibliography

Varieties of Commons / The Commons as a Political Agenda

Donald M. Nonini, “The Global Idea of ‘the Commons’ ” (pdf, course website) David Bollier, “A New Politics of the Commons,” Renewal, 2007 (e-reserve). Tomales Bay Institute, State of the Commons and The Commons Rising reports (handouts) blog posts: browse site

   	Ivan Illich, “Silence is a Commons,” at
   	Bollier and Racine, “Ready to Share:  Creativity in Fashion & Digital Culture,” at

Property & Commons / The Gift Economy

C.B. MacPherson, editor, Property, Chapters 1-3, pp. 1-37; and Morris Cohen, Chapter 10, “Property and Sovereignty,” pp. 153-176. Carol Rose, Property and Persuasion: Essays on the History Theory and Rhetoric of Ownership, Introduction and Chapters 1, pp. 1-23. Garrett Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons” Science, May 1, 1968, pp. 682-68. Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property, Introduction - Chapter 5, pp. xi - 92.

	David Bollier, Silent Theft, Chapter 2, “The Stubborn Vitality of the Gift Economy,” pp. 27-42.

The History of Commons & Enclosure

Peter Linebaugh, The Magna Carta Manifesto, Introduction - Chapter 4, pp. 1-93.

  	Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation, Chapters 3-15, pp. 33-191.

Also of interest:

Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker, The Many-Headed Hydra: The Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic, pp. 149-167. Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation, pp. 61-84. E.P. Thompson, Customs in Common.

The Dynamics of Modern Enclosure / Governing the Commons

Bollier, Silent Theft, Chapters 3 - 6, pp. 43-98. Elinor Ostrom, Governing the Commons, Chapters 1-3, pp. 1-102. Margaret Jane Radin, Contested Commodities, Chapters 1-3, pp. 1-45. Agnès Varda, The Gleaners and I [documentary film]

Land as a Commons / Water as a Commons

Eric T. Freyfogle, The Land We Share, Intro. - Chapter 1, pp. 1-36; Chapters 4 - 10, pp. 101-201. Maude Barlow, “Our Water Commons: Toward a New Freshwater Narrative” [report], 2009. Adam Davidson-Harden, et al., “Alternatives for Local Control of Water Commons” [report]. José A. Rivera, Acequia Culture, pp. 25-40 and pp. 49-62. Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman, Thirst [documentary film]

The Atmosphere and Commons Trusts

      	Peter Barnes, Capitalism 3.0:  A Guide to Reclaiming the Commons, pp. 1-116.
       	Peter Barnes, Who Owns the Sky? pp. 1-78.

The Second Enclosure Movement

     William Patry, Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars, Chapters 1 - 4, pp. 1-96.
     Bollier, Brand Name Bullies:  The Quest to Own and Control Culture, Part I, pp. 1-79, and Part III, 

pp. 145-196.

     Carrie McLaren, The Illegal Art Exhibit [DVD]
      Also of interest:  
      James Bessen and Michael J. Meurer, Patent Failure
    Good Copy, Bad Copy [DVD]

The Internet as a Super-Commons

        Lawrence Lessig, The Future of Ideas, Part I, “Dot-Commons,” pp. 19-99.
        Bollier, Silent Theft, Chapter 7, “Can the Internet Commons Be Saved?” pp. 99-118. 
        Bollier, Viral Spiral, Chapter 1, “In the Beginning Was Free Software,” pp. 23-41; and

Chapters 2, “The Discovery of the Public Domain,” pp. 42-68.

        Richard Stallman, “The GNU Manifesto,” at
        Eben Moglen, “Anarchism Triumphant:  Free Software and the Death of Copyright,” 

First Monday, August 2, 1999, at

        Hess & Ostrom, Understanding Knowledge as a Commons, Introduction, pp. 3-26. 
        Also of interest:  
        Wikipedia, “End-to-End Principle”
        Eric Raymond, “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” [essay]    
        Committee for Economic Development, “Open Standards, Open Source, Open Innovation:

Harnessing the Benefit of Openness,” April 2006, at innovation.

New Genres of Collaborative Creativity / The Economics of Online Sharing

      Bollier, Viral Spiral, Chapters 4, 5 and 6, “Inventing the Creative Commons, 

“Navigating the Great Value Shift,” and “Creators Take Charge,” pp. 93-167.

      Kembrew MacLeod, Copyright Criminals [DVD on remix music]
      Bollier, Viral Spiral, Chapter 10, “The New Open Business Models,” pp. 229-252.
      Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks, Part I, “The Networked Information Economy,” 
	pp. 29-127.	 
      Michel Bauwens, “The Political Economy of Peer Production, Post-Autistic Economics Review, 

April 2006, article 3, pp. 33-44, at

      Also of interest:
      Adam Arvidsson, “Crisis of Value and the Ethical Economy,” at

Academia as a Commons

      Jennifer Washburn, University Inc., Introduction - Chapter 5, pp. 1-136; and Chapter 9, pp. 225-241.
      Bollier, Silent Theft, Chapter 9, “Enclosing the Academic Commons,” pp. 139-146.
      Bollier, Viral Spiral, Chapters 11 and 12 (on open education and open science), pp. 253-293.

Media Commons / Enclosures of Identity: Places, Spaces, Food & Antiquity

      Robert McChesney, “The Battle for the U.S. Airwaves, 1928-1935,” Chapter 6, pp. 157-180, 

and Chapter 15, pp. 341-354, in The Political Economy of Media: Enduring Issues, Emerging Dilemmas.

      Snider, J.D., “The Cartoon Guide to Federal Spectrum Policy,” New America Foundation, 	  

2004, at .

James Cuno, Who Owns Antiquity? Preface & Chapter 1, pp. 1-43.

     Joseph Sax, Playing Darts with Rembrandt, Chapters 4-6, pp. 48-92

Bollier, Silent Theft, Chapter 10, pp. 147-162. Carlo Petrini, Slow Food: The Case for Taste, pp. 1-63. Juan Friere, “From the Analog Commons to the New Hybrid Public Spaces,” at

International Politics and the Commons

    Crottorf Castle report of international retreat on the commons, at

     Alain Lipietz essay on the commons, at
     Barcelona Charter for Innovation, Creativity and Access to Knowledge, at
     World Social Forum, “Reclaim the Commons,” at
     Commons Manifesto:  “Strengthen the Commons.  Now!” [Germany] at

     Michael F. Brown, Who Owns Native Culture? Introduction - Chapter 2, pp. 1-68.
     Vandana Shiva, Protect or Plunder?  Understanding Intellectual Property Rights, pp. 1-133.
     Bollier, Viral Spiral, Chapter 9, “The Many Faces of the Commons,” pp. 203-226. 
     David Martin:  Global Innovation Trust and heritable trusts for indigenous peoples

     Peter Drahos and John Braithwaite, Information Feudalism
     Anupam Chander and Madhavi Sunder, “The Romance of the Public Domain,” 

California Law Review, (2004), pp. 1341+.

The Action Platform


George Por:

"This community is a nascent social, cultural, and knowledge commons for the Commons, helping commons-builders & activists learning by doing. We're an action platform, not a place of general conversations about the commons, for which we recommend the message board.

We are open to commoners around the world, who are engaged or want to engage in commons building. We define commons as "people self-organizing to co-produce & co-govern resources essential to their livelihood and/or well-being." Here we can form groups, write blogs, start and participate in real-time chats and asynchronous conversations for collaboration."