New Common Institutions in Barcelona

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* Article: New Common Institutions in Barcelona: A Response to the Commodification of the City? By Bru Laín Escandell. Critical Perspectives on the Financialisation of Nature – Theory, Politics and Practice.University of Sussex, 19-20th March 2015.



"The discussion about so-called ‘commons’ has intensified during the last thirty years, and more precisely, since Elinor Ostrom was awarded Nobel in Economics in 2009. She worked mainly on natural-common resources (1990), nevertheless current literature has exceeded her former field of analysis, being applied to urban contexts as well. Due to this interest, one question arises: to what extent can we truly talk about ‘urban commons’? Some responses hold that the new emergence of these practices would be correlated –yet not necessarily caused by– with an increasing process of commodification and financialisation of cities during the last decades. Other conceptions go beyond pointing out that urban commons should be understood as a reaction against these economic transformations, by leading to a new model of public-management.

This paper aims to clarify these assumptions by analysing 15 different case studies in the city of Barcelona. Even though they constitute an heterogeneous set of common-based initiatives –including cooperatives, cultural centres, financial and banking services, internet connection networks or green energy production– all of them share some important features regarding two dimensions. On one side, their particular type of property tenure, and on the other, the set of claims and political collective practices they potentially entail. By exploring such a double characteristic, the paper proposes a four layers-framework of analysis. First, a conceptual definition of these common-based practices, and second a necessary comprehension as historical phenomena. The third dimension is their complex relationship with public and private spheres, while the fourth is the mode(s) of governance they display and the socio-political dynamic they contain. The main hypothesis defends that, despite these experiences might be seen as a reaction against the commodification and financialization of the city, their logic and motivation go much beyond of a mere reaction of response. Rather, it is founded on the set of social claims and historical dynamics. The conclusion holds, therefore, that a properly clarification of urban-commons would require not just an exogenous explanation but also an endogenous one."