Final considerations on the three approaches

Whereas we acknowledge that the three aforementioned approaches on the commons are somewhat problematic due to the fact that the limits between each of them are blurry, they become useful tools for the comprehension of a complex concept like that of the commons by isolating abstract processes according to analytical categories.

As it has become evident in the previous pages, and as it is summarised in table 3.2, there are some transversal concepts that are shared in more or less degree between each approach (like a political background, specific referents, the importance of self-organization and the construction of a third way which is neither related to the State nor to the Market), to the point that some authors may be partially included in other groups. However, it is also true that there are important discrepancies between each approach. While this is understandable because most of these proponents not only have very different backgrounds and motivations but have been working without almost no interaction with each other (either inside the same group or outside them1), it is evident that the term “common” is used for very different purposes. This, in turn, poses some interesting ideas that will become crucial for the study of the commons in general and for this research in particular which will be further developed in upcoming chapters: being the first of them the need of delimit the concept and focus on the urban commons subset, which as we will see in next chapter has profoundly been influenced by these three approaches.

Variable Institutional approach Digital approach Anti-capitalist approach
Commons Commons are Common Pool Resources that are managed collectively.

They provide a valid alternative to market and provide an intermediate solution, nor public, nor private.

Immaterial resources (software, information, knowledge, culture...) that are created, managed and shared collectively in a non-exclusive way and managedby the members of a certain community General concept aimed to improve the majority’s wealth (but notrelated to property).

Any product of the nature or socially (or politically) produced outside the market logics

Threats Enclosures by fences and private ownership, enclosure acts. Free-riders searching theirown profit. Property Rights, restrictive licences, patents, closed/proprietary formats Result of capitalist mode of production (appropriation through surplus value or rents)
Key concepts Overgrazing, finite resources, governance, decision-makingmechanisms, auto-regulation, community Peer production, open formats,source code, technopolitics Resistance, Biopolitics, capitalism, cognitive capitalism, mutltitude, opposition, social production, class struggles
Proponents Garret Hardin, Elinor OStrom, Charlotte Hess Stallman, Lessig, Benkler Hardt, Negri, Marx, Harvey, de Angelis
Examples Open fields, fisheries, water, irrigation fields… Software, knowledge, culture Immaterial production like knowledge, affects, codes and, above all, social relations
Resources Hirhg-rivalry and limited natural resources Immaterial (unlimited) Material (limited) and immaterial (unlimited)
Freedom Freedom is a matter of open access to the CPR and self-governance Autonomy, Open Access, liberty (freedom of choice) Freedom is the absence of oppression (mostly imposed by capitalist’s neoliberal policies that result in dispossession and class struggles)
Property Commonly managed (no private property) Theoretically only intellectual property is kept as a moral right2. Something to be abolished, as it is the origin of struggles and poverty
Governance Internal rules created by the community.

Tendency to normativeness and institutionalization

Self-organization (mostly non-hierarchical) under a legal frame provided by free licences Self-organization
City Not directly mentioned Irrelevant Producer of commons. Battlefield
Technology Means of enclosing new commons that were previously impossible to fence Facilitators of new types of peer-production and commons.

Means of enclosing new commons that were previously impossible to fence

Not directly mentioned

Tabl. 3.2: Comparison of the three approaches of the commons.

  1. A part from the already mentioned discrepancies between Richard Stallman and Linus Torvalds, it is not difficult to imagine intellectual disagreements between Benkler and Marx or Ostrom and Torvalds, to name a few, even though they never mentioned each other. However, there are notable exceptions to this rule, mostly from more academic scholars, like Hess (who quotes Harvey) Harvey (who quotes Ostrom, Hess, Hardin, Benkler, Marx, Hardt and Negri), Benkler (who quotes Stallman and Ostrom), or, in less degree, Hardt and Negri who build on top of others and try to partially incorporate their discourses.

  2. Authorship notion differs in Europe and USA traditions. Whereas in Europe is a moral right that can’t be subtracted, the latter does not explicitly recognize it.