The Commons: State of the Art

Since the popular uprisings of the Arab Spring, Indignados movements in Spain (2011) or Occupy Wall Street movement (2012), public manifestations against inequities caused by capitalism are more and more frequent and notorious. However, these networks of indignation (Castells, 2012) are slowly being transformed into more proactive movements for social change like new political parties, social movements or solidarity economy networks which range from nutrition, communication, education, financing, or even housing. All these initiatives share the fact that they propose alternative systems opposed to neoliberal capitalism and most of them are based on the same principle: their claim for the common good in opposition to capitalist’s enclosures. It is for that reason that some of these examples are often referred to as “urban commons”.

There is a widespread notion about what “commons” are, which could be summarised as follows: a common is something that does not belong to anyone yet it benefits everyone. This notion, in turn, is associated with positive values of sharing, solidarity or belonging to a community and it is often used in opposition to the concept of “enclosure”. This is another concept as old as that of the commons, which is used to describe the actions of putting fences to something and, thus, limiting its access to a reduced number of people.

But despite this vagueness of concepts, commons are not something new, in fact, there is also a long tradition of theorising about them which has just recently seen a rebirth. In this chapter, we will see which are the origins of the term, how many forms of new have been portrayed which will lead to the next chapter in which we will outline three different trends of understanding the commons at an abstract level.