Contribution to GTI Roundtable "The Commons and Transformation"
I support much of what is in David Bollier’s paper; however, I would like to make a few additional points:
1. While Bollier mentions the issue of local inequities, he does so only in passing. For many communities around the world, the issues of gender, caste, class, race, ethnicity, age, and other inequalities and exploitation are all-too-real and stubbornly resistant to change. Commons are not always about “fair access,” and Ostrom’s design principles do not necessarily operate on the ground. I can cite many examples of commons that are wonderful from an ecological point of view, but also deny access to powerless minorities in the community. One criticism of the “localization” movement is that it ignores such inequities and elite capture of local institutions. I do not share the view that this is an inherent part of localization or of the commons, but unless we build this squarely into our understanding and the process of transformation, we will be missing out on putting social justice as a central component of any movement.
2. Do we really have a “global movement of commoners”? To me, a movement is something with self-identity and a cohesive (even if internally diverse), collective presence. At the moment, the commons initiatives around the world are scattered, often isolated, and sometimes networking, but are not yet a global movement. For this, the need for global (and subglobal) processes is crucial. This would also mean aligning with other movements, such as those for collective territorial rights and custodianship (powerful amongst indigenous peoples, for instance).
3. For the local to global transformation, we also have to challenge the nation-state as a political entity. Regional and global governance based on commonly identified ecologies and cultures would transcend current nation-state boundaries and perhaps eventually dissolve them, replacing them with fluidity instead of rigidities in the determination of collective identities. I can have one cultural identity, another ecologically defined identity, a third thematically defined one that can cut across the first two, and so on, and none may be as overpowering as the current nationality identity is.