Commons Rights

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= Commons Rights differ from human rights and civil rights because they arise, not through the legislation of a state, but through a customary or emerging identification with an ecology, a cultural resource area, a social need, or a form of collective labor. Commons rights affirm the sovereignty of human beings over their means of sustenance and well-being.


James Quilligan:

"Commons Rights differ from human rights and civil rights because they arise, not through the legislation of a state, but through a customary or emerging identification with an ecology, a cultural resource area, a social need, or a form of collective labor. Commons rights affirm the sovereignty of human beings over their means of sustenance and well-being.

They vest us with a moral authority and social legitimacy to make decisions and create agreements on the sharing of resources that ensure our rights to survival and security. This creates an entirely new context for collective action. Instead of seeking individual and human rights from the state, people may begin to claim long-term authority over resources, governance and social value as their planetary birthrights — both at a community and global level. Commons rights provide an important basis for creating covenants and institutions that are not state-managed to negotiate the protection and sustenance of resources and ensure that the mutual interests of all stakeholders are directly represented. through the assertion of people’s inherent rights to a commons, the role of the state would become much more balanced between enabling the corporate sector and enabling citizens. Instead of regulating commerce and finance in the public interest (while also regulating the commons for the benefit of commerce and finance), the new duty of the state would be to confirm the declarations of the rights of people to their commons, allowing them to manage their own resources by recognizing and upholding their Social Charters and Commons Trusts." (


Commons Rights Are Not Legal Rights

Source: The Production of Commons and the “Explosion” of the Middle Class. Massimo De Angelis. Antipode, Volume 42, Issue 4, pages 954–977, September 2010 [1]

Commons Rights are not legal rights, by Massimo De Angelis:

“Commoning, a term encountered by Peter Linebaugh (2008) in one of his frequent travels in the living history of commoners’ struggles, is about the (re)production of/through commons3. To turn a noun into a verb is not a little step and requires some daring. Especially if in doing so we do not want to obscure the importance of the noun, but simply ground it on what is, after all, life flow: there are no commons without incessant activities of commoning, of (re)producing in common. But it is through (re)production in common that communities of producers decide for themselves the norms, values and measures of things. Let us put the “tragedy of the commons” to rest then, the basis of the economists’ argument for enclosures: there is no commons without commoning, there is no commons without communities of producers and particular flows and modes of relations.4 Hence, what lies behind the “tragedy of the commons” is really the tragedy of the destruction of commoning through all sorts of structural adjustments, whether militarized or not.5 It is because this organic relation between the activity of the commoners and the commons that “commons” rights differ, in their constitution, from legal rights such as “human”, “political” or “social” rights. In the latter sense, a “right” is a legal entitlement to have or obtain something or to act in a certain way. A title deed constitutes evidence of such a right. For the medieval English commoners instead:

- common rights are embedded in a particular ecology with its local husbandry … Commoners first think not of title deeds, but human deeds: how will this land be tilled? Does it require manuring? What grows there? They begin to explore. One might call it a natural attitude. Second, commoning is embedded in a labor process; it inheres in a particular praxis of field, upland, forest, marsh, coast. Common rights are entered into by labor. Third, commoning is collective. Fourth, commoning, being independent of the state, is independent also of the temporality of the law and state. It goes deep into human history (Linebaugh 2008:44–45).

The positing for today of the question of what form of commoning, of (re)producing in common, and the field of common rights as distinct from legal rights, means therefore that we cannot separate the question of autonomy, community, life flow, and ecology, but must assert them all at once while struggling for livelihoods. This implies that we must seek and advance new critical perspectives, which make the problematic of transforming our world, of constituting new social relations of production beyond those imposed by capitalist processes, their central preoccupation. Not perspectives that reduce every single problematic of struggle to the question of new forms of commoning. On the contrary, perspectives that expand every single problematic of struggle as carried by singular subjects within a stratified planetary wage hierarchy so as to pose the political question (and express it in organizational means) of our production in common across stratification, and therefore, beyond it.” (

Commons Rights pertaining to Common Land

From the Wikipedia:

"Historically most rights of common were appurtenant to particular plots of land, and the commoner would be the person who, for the time being, was the occupier of a particular plot of land (or in the case of turbary, even a particular heath). Some rights of common were said to be in gross, that is, they were unconnected with ownership or tenure of land. This was more usual in regions where commons are more extensive, such as in Northern England or the Fens, but also included many village greens across England and Wales. Most land with appurtenant commons rights is adjacent to the common or even surrounded by it, but in a few cases it may be some considerable distance away.

Example rights of common are:

  • Pasture. Right to pasture cattle, horses, sheep or other animals on the common land. The most widespread right.
  • Piscary. Right to fish.
  • Turbary. Right to take sods of turf for fuel.
  • Common of marl. Right to take sand and gravel.
  • Mast or pannage. Right to turn out pigs for a period in autumn to eat mast (beech mast, acorns and other nuts).
  • Estovers. Right to take sufficient wood for the commoner's house or holding; usually limited to smaller trees, bushes (such as gorse) and fallen branches.[3][4]

On most commons, rights of pasture and pannage for each commoner are tightly defined by number and type of animal. For example the occupier of a particular cottage might be allowed to graze fifteen cattle, four horses, ponies or donkeys, and fifty geese—the numbers allowed for their neighbours would probably be different. On some commons (such as the New Forest and adjoining commons), the rights are not limited by number, and instead a marking fee is paid each year for each animal turned out." (