ECC2013/Land and Nature Stream

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The Land and Nature Session

Dialogue Joshua Farley & Ugo Mattei: Between Reform and Revolution

There are many beautiful examples of commons management in natural resources from the most ancient practices of managing natural commons of water and pastures in the Global South to the delicate transformations of private management of resources like water into public common partnerships.. However, at the moment many of these examples remain disconnected and this may be the time for the commons to catalyze a global and systemic change in our current economic system, as opposed to remaining as islands in a sea of neoliberal policy. Unless we seek such a systemic change these islands will continue to be assaulted and undermined by the logic of self interest, competition, profits and efficiency and persistently squeezed between the state and market. Without addressing the assumptions of this logic and the way in which it has dominated life as we know it, then reform of the management of natural resources in such a context means only the progress of the current neoliberal paradigm as opposed to progress towards some alternative horizon shaped by the values of the commons. And yet the possibility of a mass popular revolution, a dramatic rupture with the past, without an anchor in the democratic political system also seems untenable and undesirable at least in the context of the west, as the results of such a rupture will be unlikely to have long lasting revolutionary impact as we say in the cases of revolution at least here in the west. So what is the way forward in this case? The answer must lie between these two categories which seems to have lost the gravity of their meaning in today's context. Today’s presentation is an effort to explore the space between these two categories in order to locate how the bottom up practices could be supported by a systemic shift in economic logic and the creation of new legal institutions to support such this systemic shift. I am very pleased to present our two keynotes

Break Out Session: Integrating Theory and Practice

Throughout the world, neoliberal economic policies have had destructive effects on land and natural commons both resulting in the degradation of these natural environments, as well as reduction in equal access to natural resources and the enjoyment of nature. These policies are taking the form of cuts to public programs and the privatization of the management (and thus the control) of key natural resources. Cuts to public programs are undermining previously publicly supported preservation of natural spaces: pastures, forests, coastal and mountain spaces, as well as agricultural lands for ensuring local food production and food security. Privatization measures have been aggressively applied to water in large metropolitan areas, resulting in an increase in price, decrease in quality, as well as decrease in access in places like Paris, Berlin and Naples. In the heart of the metropolis, where access to natural commons maybe even more scarce and the cost of denying access much higher, the issue has become a potent node of political activism. The fundamental character of water to human life has made it a symbol and rallying cry against the privatization of crucial natural commons, leading most famously to the Bolivian water wars and reform of the Bolivian constitution. In Europe today two different European Citizen’s Initiatives are running on the platform of water as a fundamental right and common good. Since the remunicipalization of water began, the local governments of Paris, Berlin and Naples are experimenting with commons governance through more participatory methods of management which includes not only workers but users. For example in Naples, the previously public-private water company has been converted into the first of its kind public-common institution which emphasizes the complementary relationship between the public and civil society sectors as opposed to the state and the market. However the flourishing anti-privatization movement and these examples of newly emerging commons institutions to protect natural commons are still lacking in the analytical and theoretical tools to produce a true paradigm shift in the way we look at the economy.

While commons theory is rich in examples of successful commons arrangement, the historical, social and cultural factors and institutions crucial to their success, makes them extremely difficult to generalize into a new type of commons based economic model. Additionally, the need to take a “resource specific” approach to the governance of different natural resources presents an obstacle to unified forms of regulation. And while a “one size fits all” model and “top down” policy are intuitively counterproductive, there is clearly a need to articulate a general theory capable of deconstructing and resisting the hegemonic dominance of neoliberalism and to articulate an alternative policy. This deconstruction requires the development of a new theory about the relationship of the law and the economy, of regulation and resources, of government and productive activity. Law, rather than operating as a tool for creating market conditions and the conditions for scarcity could be used to produce the conditions for commoning and abundance. Neoliberalism is potent precisely because it understands the law as tool of intervention necessary to producing the economy. In order to fight it, we must adopt this insight and use it against itself to create the conditions for the commons based economy. In order to facilitate this transformation more information needs to be shared between law and economics, between specifically legal scholars grappling with communal and public property and economists working outside of the neoclassical frame.


This stream attempts to bring together both legal scholars together with ecological economists with insights into the way in which to transform property law into tool for designing the commons based economy, and those activists and practitioners fighting on behalf of the protection of natural commons particularly water, in order to articulate an alternative economic policy for governing natural commons informed by both theory and practice. As commons property scholar Carol Rose points out, water may be the ideal natural resource for shedding new light on the ways in which to free natural commons from the prison of isolated property units into the open space of shared resources and realities.


Recommended Reading for the Land and Nature stream

Source: The Wealth of the Commons. A world beyond market and state. Ed. by David Bollier and Silke Helfrich. Commons Strategies Group. Levellers Press, 2012 [1]

  • Resilience Thinking, by Rob Hopkins [2]
  • The Economy of Wastefulness: The Biology of the Commons, by Andreas Weber [3]
  • Subsistence: Perspective for a Society Based on Commons, by Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen [4]
  • The Global Land Grab: The New Enclosures, by Liz Alden Wily [5]
  • Genetically Engineered Promises & Farming Realities, by P.V. Satheesh [6]
  • Water as a Commons: Only Fundamental Change Can Save Us, by Maude Barlow [7]
  • A New German Raw Materials Strategy: A Modern Enclosure of the Commons?, by Lili Fuhr [8]
  • Using “Protected Natural Areas” to Appropriate the Commons, by Ana de Ita [9]
  • Community Based Forest and Livelihood Management in Nepal, by Shrikrishna Upadhyay [10]
  • The Atmosphere as a Global Commons, by Ottmar Edenhofer, Christian Flachsland and Bernhard Lorentz [11]