Advertisement

Human Ecology

, Volume 47, Issue 3, pp 331–340 | Cite as

What Do We Mean by “the Commons?” An Examination of Conceptual Blurring Over Time

  • Ismael VaccaroEmail author
  • Oriol Beltran
Article
  • 155 Downloads

Abstract

Over the last 20 years the theoretical concept of the commons has come to be used not only in the field of natural resources management, but also as a key notion in domains as diverse as the digital economy and alternative politics. The wide use of the term has, however, led to a loss of specificity in the way it is used. Across several disciplines the commons is often used almost interchangeably with terms such as open access, common property, public domain, public goods, or common pool resources. We examine the reasons for the increasing conflation of these concepts over time. The field emerged as the result of the collaboration of two types of theoretical work: a) the study of common pool resources which focused on the characteristics of the resources in order to predict social behaviour, and b) research on the analysis of common property regimes that focused on the structural characteristics of the institutions devised to manage those resources. This difference in emphasis resulted in the development of two sets of concepts to refer to the same processes but from slightly different perspectives. With increasing interest in research focussed on the commons, these concepts are often used uncritically and their original designations are conflated across a suite of categories.

Keywords

Common pool resources Open access Public goods Public property Common property 

Notes

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

References

  1. Acheson, J. (1988). The lobster gangs of Maine, UPNE, Hanover.Google Scholar
  2. Acheson, J. (2000). Clearcutting Maine: Implications for the theory of common property resources. Human Ecology 28(2): 145–169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Agrawal, A. (2001). Common property institutions and sustainable governance of resources. World Development 29(10): 1649–1672.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Agrawal, A. (2003). Sustainable governance of common-pool resources: Context, methods, and politics. Annual Review of Anthropology 32(1): 243–262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Agrawal, A., and Gibson, C. (1999). Enchantment and disenchantment: The role of community in natural resource conservation. World Development 27(4): 629–649.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Andersen, B. (Ed.). (2006). Intellectual property rights: Innovation, governance and the institutional environment. Edward Elgar Publishing.Google Scholar
  7. Anderson, T., and Grewell, B. (1999). Property rights solutions for the global commons: Bottom-up or top-down. Duke Environmental Law & Policy Forum 10: 73–101.Google Scholar
  8. Ashenafi, Z. T., and Leader-Williams, N. (2005). Indigenous common property resource management in the central highlands of Ethiopia. Human Ecology 33(4): 539–563.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bauer, K. (2006). Common property and power: Insights from a spatial analysis of historical and contemporary pasture boundaries among pastoralists in Central Tibet. Journal of Political Ecology 13: 24–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Benkler, Y. (2006). The wealth of networks: How social production transforms markets and freedom, Yale University Press, New Haven.Google Scholar
  11. Berkes, F. (1989). Common property resources. Ecology and community-based sustainable development. Belhaven press with the International Union for Conservation of nature and natural resources.Google Scholar
  12. Berkes, F., and Folke, C. (eds.) (1998). Linking social and ecological systems. Management practices and social mechanisms for building resilience, Cambridge University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  13. Bollier, D. (2014). Think Like a Commoner: A Short Introduction to the Life of the Commons, New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, BC.Google Scholar
  14. Bollier, D. and S. Helfrich (eds.). (2014). The wealth of the Commons: A world beyond market and state, Levellers Press.Google Scholar
  15. Bollig, M., and Lesorogol, C. (2016). The “new pastoral commons” of eastern and southern Africa. International Journal of the Commons 10(2): 665–687.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Borch, C., and Kornberger, M. (eds.) (2015). Urban Commons: Rethinking the City, Routledge, London.Google Scholar
  17. Boyle, J. (2008). The public domain: Enclosing the commons of the mind. New Haven, Conn.; London: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Bromley, D. (1989). Property relations and economic development: The other land reform. World Development 17(6): 867–877.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Bromley, D. (1991). Environment and economy: Property rights and public policy, Blackwell, Oxford.Google Scholar
  20. Bromley, D. (ed.) (1992a). Making the Commons work: Theory, practice, and policy, ICS Press, San Francisco.Google Scholar
  21. Bromley, D. (1992b). The commons, property, and common-property regimes. In Making the commons work, 3–16. San Francisco, ICS Press.Google Scholar
  22. Broumas, A. (2017a). Commons’ movements and ‘progressive’ governments as dual power: The potential for social transformation in Europe. Capital & Class 1–23.Google Scholar
  23. Broumas, A. (2017b). Social democratic and critical theories of the intellectual Commons: A critical analysis. TripleC 15(1).Google Scholar
  24. Caffentzis, G., and Federici, S. (2014). Commons against and beyond capitalism. Community Development Journal 49(S1): i92–i105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Chamberlin, J. (1974). Provision of collective goods as a function of group size. American Political Science Review 68(2): 707–716.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Chatterton, P. (2010). Seeking the urban common: Furthering the debate on spatial justice. City 14(6): 625–628.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ciriacy-Wantrup, S., and Bishop, R. (1975). "Common property" as a concept in natural resources policy. Natural Resources Journal 15(4): 713–727.Google Scholar
  28. Coase, R. (1960). The problem of social cost. In Classic Papers in Natural Resource Economics 87–137. Palgrave Macmillan, London.Google Scholar
  29. Coleman, G. (2004). The political agnosticism of free and open source software and the inadvertent politics of contrast. Anthropological Quarterly 77(3): 507–519.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Coleman, G. (2009). Code is speech: Legal tinkering, expertise, and protest among free and open source software developers. Cultural Anthropology 24(3): 420–454.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Commons, J. (1893). The distribution of wealth, Macmillan and Company.Google Scholar
  32. Coriat, B. (2015). Le retour des communs: la crise de l'idéologie propriétaire. Paris: Les Liens qui Libèrent.Google Scholar
  33. Crawford, S. E., and Ostrom, E. (1995). A grammar of institutions. American Political Science Review 89(3): 582–600.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Dasgupta, P. (2005). Common property resources: Economic analytics. Economic and Political Weekly: 1610–1622.Google Scholar
  35. De Angelis, M. (2010). The production of commons and the “explosion” of the middle class. Antipode 42(4): 954–977.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. De Angelis, M. (2017). Omnia sunt communia: On the commons and the transformation to postcapitalism. Zed Books Ltd.Google Scholar
  37. Demsetz, H. (1974). Toward a Theory of Property Rights. In Classic Papers in Natural Resource Economics (163–177). Palgrave Macmillan, London.Google Scholar
  38. Dolan, K. (2014). Beyond the Fruited Plain: Food and Agriculture in US Literature, 1850–1905, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Dulong de Rosnay, M., and De Martin, J. (eds.) (2012). The digital public domain: Foundations for an open culture, Open Book Publishers, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  40. Dulong de Rosnay, M. and H. Le Crosnier. (2012). An introduction to the digital commons: From common-pool resources to community governance. Building Institutions for Sustainable Scientific, Cultural and Genetic Resources Commons. Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium: International Association for the Study of the Commons.Google Scholar
  41. Edney, J., and Bell, P. A. (1983). The Commons dilemma: Comparing altruism, the Golden rule, perfect equality of outcomes, and territoriality. The Social Science Journal 20: 23–33.Google Scholar
  42. Eizenberg, E. (2012). Actually existing commons: Three moments of space of community gardens in new York City. Antipode 44(3): 764–782.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Ensminger, J. (1996). Making a market: The institutional transformation of an African society, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  44. Esping-Andersen, G. (1990). The three worlds of welfare capitalism, Princeton University Press, Princeton.Google Scholar
  45. Feeny, D., Berkes, F., McCay, B. J., and Acheson, J. M. (1990). The tragedy of the commons: Twenty-two years later. Human Ecology 18(1): 1–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Fennell, L. A. (2011). Ostrom’s law: Property rights in the commons. International Journal of the Commons 5(1): 9–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Fourier, C. (1808). Design for Utopia: Selected writing, Schocken, New York, p. 1971.Google Scholar
  48. Fuster, M. (2010). Governance of online creation communities: Provision of infrastructure for the building of digital Commons. PhD thesis, European University Institute, Florence.Google Scholar
  49. Fuster, M., Subirats, J., Berlinguer, M., Martínez, R., and Salcedo, J. (2015). Procomún Digital y Cultura Libre: ¿Hacia un cambio de época? Icaria, Barcelona.Google Scholar
  50. Galaty, J. (2016). Reasserting the commons: Pastoral contestations of private and state lands in East Africa. International Journal of the Commons 10(2): 709–727.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Gardner, R., Ostrom, E., and Walker, J. M. (1990). The nature of common-Pool resource problems. Rationality and Society 2: 335–358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Gerber, J. F., and Steppacher, R. (2017). Basic principles of possession based economies. Anthropological Theory 17(2): 217–238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Hall, D., Hirsch, P., and Li, T. (2011). Powers of exclusion: Land dilemmas in Southeast Asia, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu.Google Scholar
  54. Hallowell, I. (1943). The nature and function of property as a social institution. Journal of Legal and Political Sociology 1: 11–138.Google Scholar
  55. Hann, C. M. (2003). The postsocialist agrarian question: Property relations and the rural condition (Vol. 1), LIT Verlag, Münster.Google Scholar
  56. Hardin, G. (1968). The tragedy of the commons. Science 162: 1243–1248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Hardin, G. (1994). The tragedy of the unmanaged commons. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 9(5): 199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Hartley, T. (2018). Who owns the flows? Distinguishing ownership of resource flows from ownership of resource stocks clarifies debates about property bundles, commons tragedies, and degrowth. Journal of Political Ecology 25: 602–616.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Heller, M. (ed.). (2010). Commons and Anticommons I. Elgar editions.Google Scholar
  60. Hess, C. (2008). Mapping the new commons. Governing shared resources: Connecting local experience to global challenges. In 12th biennial conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons, University of Gloucestershire, Cheltenham.Google Scholar
  61. Hess, C., and Ostrom, E. (eds.) (2007). Understanding knowledge as a Commons: From theory to practice, MIT Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  62. Hoffmann, S. (2013). Property, possession and natural resource management: Towards a conceptual clarification. Journal of Institutional Economics 9(1): 39–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. IUGG GeoRisk. (2002). The Budapest manifesto on risk science and sustainability. Available at: www.iugg-georisk.org/Documents/Commission%20reports/Budapest_Manifesto_2002.pdf. Accessed November 2017.
  64. Jeffrey, A., McFarlane, C., and Vasudevan, A. (2012). Rethinking enclosure: Space, subjectivity and the Commons. Antipode 44(4): 1247–1267.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Kelty, C. M. (2008). Two bits: The cultural significance of free software, Duke University Press, Durham.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Kurien, J., (1991). Ruining the commons and responses of the commoners: Coastal overfishing and Fishermen's actions in Kerala state, Indian. United Nations Research Institute for Social Development.Google Scholar
  67. Laval, C., and Dardot, P. (2015). Común: Ensayo sobre la revolución en el siglo XXI, Gedisa, Barcelona.Google Scholar
  68. Lesorogol, C. (2008). Contesting the common: Privatizing pastoral lands in Kenya, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Li, T. (1996). Images of community: Discourse and strategy in property relations. Development and Change 27: 510–527.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Mallorca Declaration on Open Science. (2016). Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/research/openvision/pdf/rise/mallorca_declaration_2017.pdf. Accessed November 2017.
  71. McCay, B. (1998). Oyster wars and the public trust: Property, law, and ecology in New Jersey history. University of Arizona Press.Google Scholar
  72. McCay, B., and Acheson, J. M. (1987). The question of the Commons: The culture and ecology of communal resources, University of Arizona Press, Tucson.Google Scholar
  73. McCay, B., and Jentoft, S. (1998). Market or community failure? Critical perspectives on common property research. Human Organization 57(1): 21–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Merrill, T. (1998). Property and the right to exclude. Nebraska Law Review 77: 730.Google Scholar
  75. Merrill, T., and Smith, H. (2001). What Happened to Property in Law and Economics. The Yale Law Journal 111: 357.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. More, T. (1516). Utopia, New American Library, New York, p. 1967.Google Scholar
  77. Mulé, R. (1999). New institutionalism: Distilling some ‘hard Core’ propositions in the works of Williamson and March and Olsen. Politics 19(3): 145–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Nee, V. (1998). Sources of the New Institutionalism. The New Institutionalism in Sociology 1–16.Google Scholar
  79. Netting, R. (1982). Territory, property, and tenure. In Adams, R. M., Smelser, N. J., and Trieman, D. J. (eds.), Behavioral and Social Science Research: A Natural Resource, National Academy Press, Washington.Google Scholar
  80. Ostrom, E. (1990). Governing the Commons, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Ostrom, E. (1995). Constituting social capital and collective action). In Keohane, R., and Ostrom, E. (eds.), Governing the commons, the evolution of institutions for collective action, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  82. Ostrom, E. (2000). Private and common property rights. In Boukaert, B., and De Geest, G. (eds.), Encyclopedia of law and economics, Vol. II: Civil law and economics, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, pp. 332–379.Google Scholar
  83. Ostrom, E. (2005). Understanding institutional diversity, Princeton University Press, Princeton.Google Scholar
  84. Ostrom, E., Dietz, T., Dolsak, N., Stern, P. C., Stonich, S., and Weber, E. U. (eds.) (2002). The Drama of the Commons, National Academy Press, Washington DC.Google Scholar
  85. Owen, R. (1813). A new view of society: Or, essays on the formation of human character, and the application of the principle to practice. London.Google Scholar
  86. Papadimitropoulos, V. (2017). The politics of the Commons: Reform or revolt? TripleC 15(2): 565–583.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Parés, M. (ed.). (2017). La política del comú. Nous Horitzons 56(215).Google Scholar
  88. Peters, P. (1994). Dividing the commons: Politics, policy, and culture in Botswana, University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville.Google Scholar
  89. Proudhon, P.J. (1876, 1993). What is property?: An inquiry into the principle of right and of government. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  90. Ribot, J. C., and Peluso, N. L. (2003). A theory of access. Rural Sociology 68(2): 153–181.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. RISE Group (2017). Europe’s Future: Open Innovation, Open Science, Open to the World, European Union, Luxembourg.Google Scholar
  92. Runge, C. F. (1984). Institutions and the free rider: The assurance problem in collective action. Journal of Politics 46: 154–181.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Runge, C. F. (1986). Common property and collective action in economic development. World Development 14(5): 623–635.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Schlager, E., and Ostrom, E. (1992). Property-rights regimes and natural resources: A conceptual analysis. Land Economics: 249–262.Google Scholar
  95. Schmidt, V. (2008). Discursive institutionalism: The explanatory power of ideas and discourse. Annual review of political science 11.Google Scholar
  96. Schmidt, V. (2011). Reconciling ideas and institutions through discursive institutionalism. Ideas and Politics in Social Science Research 7–64.Google Scholar
  97. Strang, V., and Busse, M. (eds.) (2011). Ownership and appropriation, Berg, New York.Google Scholar
  98. Swyngedouw, E. (2005). Governance innovation and the citizen: The Janus face of governance-beyond-the-state. Urban Studies 42(11): 1991–2006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  99. Turner, F. (2010). From counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart brand, the whole earth network, and the rise of digital utopianism, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
  100. Turner, B. (2017). The Anthropology of Property. In Comparative Property Law, Edward Elgar Publishing.Google Scholar
  101. Vercelli, A. (2009). Repensando los bienes intelectuales comunes: Análisis socio-técnico sobre el proceso de co-construcción entre las regulaciones de derecho de autor y derecho de copia y las tecnologías digitales para su gestión. PhD Dissertation. Bernal, Argentina: Universidad Nacional de Quilmes. Available at: http://www.arielvercelli.org/rlbic.pdf. Accessed November 2017.
  102. Verdery, K. (2018). The vanishing hectare: Property and value in postsocialist Transylvania, Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  103. Wade, R. (1987). The management of common property resources: Collective action as an alternative to privatisation or state regulation. Cambridge Journal of Economics 11(2): 95–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Anthropology and McGill School of EnvironmentMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada
  2. 2.Department d’Antropologia Social, Facultat de Geografia i HistòriaUniversitat de BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain

Personalised recommendations