The Commons

In a December meeting the group discussed the commons after an excellent presentation on the subject. Income inequality would arise naturally out of a society based around the commons, however such a society would need a great deal of social progress. Yet the concept is wide and has many applications, from building software to management of resources, and is already in use across many different situations.

A commons is…

  1. A common pooled resource – like water, knowledge, wealth
  2. A social community
  3. The (self organised) social practices values and norms (vernacular law) of that community (2) in relation to the commons (1)

A commons needs…

  • Clearly defined boundaries
  • Good fit between rules of getting / providing from the commons and local conditions
  • Arrangements for collective choice / decisions
  • Monitoring of rules e.g. on free riders
  • Graduated sanctions if rules are broken
  • Conflict resolution mechanisms
  • Recognition of the right to organise
  • Nested enterprises

Resource material for studying the commons



1) The Wealth of the Commons (2012) by David Bollier and Silke Helfrich, editors

This book itself is clearly a result of commoning. An excellent collection of 72 essays by 91 authors with plenty of cross references. The book can be freely read on line. Each essay is short and to the point.

2) Green Governance (2013) by Burns H. Weston and David Bollier

“Let us be blunt: history has shown that neither the State nor the Market has been very successful at setting limits on Market activity. The simple truth is that neither wants to. Setting limits on State/Market exploitation of nature slows economic growth, diminishes profits, and potentially reduces tax revenues.We believe, however, that a commons- and rights-based approach to ecological governance that emerges from an energetic dedication to the three foundational and interconnected precepts of

  1.     Human Rights
  2.    Vernacular Law, and
  3.     Self-Organized Governance

is potentially a powerful means for challenging the State/Market’s primary commitments and values.”

“The point is to legitimize the idea that commoners can and should come together to create their own governance mechanisms”

3) All that we share (2010) by Jay Walljasper and 40 contributors.

This a lighthearted book with plenty of pictures and cartoons.

4) Governing the Commons (1990) by Elinor Ostrom

The Classic! + her other works, like Working Together (2010), etc.

5) The Magna Carta Manifesto by Peter Linebaugh

6) The Political Uncommons  by Kathryn Milun

7) Plunder  When the rule of law is illegal    by Ugo Mattei and Laura Nader

8) Commonwealth by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri

9) Silent Theft by David Bollier

10) Viral Spiral by David Bollier

11) Stop, Thief! : The Commons, Enclosures, And Resistance by Peter Linebaugh

12) Understanding knowledge as a commons (2007) by Charlotte Hess and Elinor Ostrom

13) Caliban and the witch by Silvia Federici

14) Revolution at Point Zero by Silvia Federici



The p2p foundation has a wealth of info on the commons and many other interesting things

Pat Conaty is a leading expert in the emerging Commons movement and a research associate with Co-operatives UK. He is also co-author with Micheal Lewis of “The Resilience Imperative: Cooperative Transitions to a Steady-state Economy” Pat recently presented at Schumacher College on the ‘The Commons and Co-operative Commonwealth’. The slides from this presentation will be of great value to anyone interested in the history of commons and cooperative movements, and are available here.

Kosmos Journal is a big supporter of the commons, see e.g. James Quilligan’s essays

The School of Commoning

The commoner

International Journal of the Commons

STIR: a new UK reader-supported magazine that looks at the inspiring and practical co-operative, commons-based and community-led alternatives to the crises in our food, finance systems and other important aspects of our live. 



David Bollier – The Commons as a New/Old Paradigm of Governance, Policy, and Political Action

Conference OWF 2010 – Free Open Source Software as a Commons – Moderated by David Bollier

From Crisis to the Commons – Saki Bailey, Giovanni Allegretti, Vinod Raina /// 16th May 2012

Silke Helfrich – ‘Commons & commoning’

James Quilligan – The Commons and New Era Economics at the IPPR


A Poem

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from off the goose.

The law demands that we atone
When we take things we do not own
But leaves the lords and ladies fine
Who takes things that are yours and mine.

The poor and wretched don’t escape
if they conspire the law to break;
This must be so but they endure
Those who conspire to make the law

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
And geese will still a common lack
Till they go and steal it back

(17th century protest against English enclosure)

PS:  Anyone interested in studying the commons in a commoning way? I can be contacted at marcguava[at]

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