Sophie Ball

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BIO Sophie Ball

Recent Phd student at Middlesex University, London, UK. Phd thesis title: Reclaiming the Commons: a discourse for new politics - How grassroots activists are shaping the future.

Work in progress: Reclaim the Commons: Occupy Everything , a paper to be included in Common Life: Participation and Experience in the Making of the Commons, ed. Dawney, L. & Kirwan, S., forthcoming July 2013, ARN (Authority Research Network) Press  ; I also currently work at Middlesex University as Student Exchanges and European Projects Manager . [email protected]


"My recent doctoral research emerged from an interest in how grassroots activists – including local groups whose activities I had witnessed firsthand - were linking into global issues and shaping the future. Not long into my research, I discovered the commons, and this became the main focus of my work. My aim was to tell as complete a story of the commons as I could, covering its manifestations over the last few decades in all the fields where it has emerged, linking it into a historical context and demonstrating how it provides us with a discourse for new politics. I feel passionate about growing the commons whether through teaching, research or practice – or ideally all three.


• 1986-1989: Liverpool University: BA Third World Studies, Spanish and Portuguese

• 2005-2007: Middlesex University: MA International Relations (dissertation on human security)

• 2008-2013: Middlesex University: PhD, thesis submitted 2013, title: Reclaiming the Commons: a discourse for new politics - How grassroots activists are shaping the future (abstract overleaf)

Conference participation:

London Conference in Critical Thought (Birkbeck, University of London, June 2012): Stream: Common Life: Critical Perspectives On Authority, Experience And Community Title of paper: Reclaim the Commons – Occupy Everything A collection of papers presented in this stream are now being considered for publication by Zed books (draft paper attached).

...Current job:

Student Exchange and European Projects Manager Middlesex University (2004-present)

I have been working in this role since 2004, supporting collaborative projects between Middlesex University and its partners both within and beyond Europe. Such projects include the student exchange programme, individual staff visits for teaching or training, and multi-partner projects in a range of areas such as university governance, curriculum development and sharing innovation. I support and encourage participation by staff and students in these projects, and apply for and manage funding from the European Commission.


Wood Green, London Borough of Haringey, UK

I have lived in North London since 2001 and have been involved with local activist groups in that time, through activities such as the restoration of an abandoned allotment site that was nearly sold to developers, and providing support for a Borough-wide sustainable living network. I currently participate in a resident-led project to manage funds awarded by the National Lottery through the Big Local programme for the benefit my local neighbourhood.


  • PhD Thesis: Reclaiming the Commons: a discourse for new politics . How grassroots activists are shaping the future


This thesis draws together a number of examples of activism and protest in order to shine a light on some of the discourses and practices that have emerged in the late 20th and early 21st centuries that offer alternatives to the neoliberal discourse. I make the case for the political significance of the activists who have been a force for change that has been largely overlooked – until 2011, the year which saw a series of protests take place across a large part of the globe: ‘the year politics changed’. (New Statesman 2011) I present this argument through what I call the story of the commons, and assert that this narrative is evidence of a vision that has arisen piecemeal, and largely from grassroots levels. The examples of discourse and practice that this thesis explores illustrate both the emergence of the language of the commons from many different spheres of life and also its influence across a range of fields. The analysis includes a historical overview of the commons, while focusing on the evolution of the concept from the latter half of the 20th century to the present day, with the most recent material taken from events occurring in 2012.

Through this vision, we recognise what is lost through the hegemony of ongoing capitalist appropriation, accumulation and exploitation of all aspects of life and reassert rights over - reclaim - that which has been lost. Through the struggle of all those involved in reclaiming the commons, a discourse for new politics emerges and shapes the future. This thesis demonstrates the emergence of a new discourse of the commons that makes possible a reconceptualisation of social, economic and political spaces."