Framing the commons: A proposal

In the previous chapter, we have seen how the concept of the commons has been evolving since its origins until its revival at the end of 20^th^ century and present day’s reinterpretation and resurgence. That rapid evolution has resulted in an increasing interest and exponential growth and development from both, the academy and the activism, giving place to a myriad of so-called new commons. Although these new commons provide interesting reinterpretations of almost all aspects of our lives, they also pose significant divergences in their conceptualisation, as we have previously discussed.

Even though the vast and diverse literature available makes evident that these divergences are notable, we have observed three main tendencies in the way they tackle the concept of the common. These three tendencies conform three analytical taxonomies that, although not being completely contradictory, differ according to where do they place their attention focus. The first one is formed by those like Garret Hardin or Elinor Ostrom who focus on the commons as collectively managed natural resources and have an institutional approach. The second one is formed by authors such as Richard M. Stallman, Lawrence Lessig and Yochai Benkler who take an entirely different starting point: the birth of computing software and the Internet and the new possibilities for sharing and producing intangibles and how they are being threatened by economic interests. And last, in the third one, there are those like David Harvey or Antonio Negri who focus on the political and economic consequences1 of enclosures of all kind and conceive the commons as political or activist collective action with great transforming potential.

The following sections cover in detail these three conceptions in order to evidence how they have configured present day’s notion of the commons and, more specifically urban commons. Our position, which we will further elaborate, is that contrarily to academia’s tendency to trace a linear genealogy of the commons, these approaches have been developed in parallel and without almost even referencing one to another. It has not been until recent times that they have started to converge and hybridise more or less successfully, giving place to the still budding commons’ studies.

  1. Most of the studies on this second group, have focused on the political dimensions of such socio-economical consequences, but there is a growing number scholars, like Alvaro Sevilla-Buitrago, who study the role played by urban planning as a tool serving capitalism, a point of view which is present thorough this thesis and gives a renewed sense to urban commons as transforming elements not just of urban morphology but also society as a whole.