Commons in Spotlight at the University of Amsterdam

Last Sunday we, Ruth and Taru, participated in a workshop organised by Commoning UvA. Commoning UvA is an interdisciplinary research group exploring the foundations and possible requisites to emancipate the university as a commons. We were impressed by the in depth reflections on the possible shapes that such a change would take. This workshop brought together various actors involved with the commoning of universities to share their knowledge, experience and best practices in establishing education that is no longer subject to the neoliberal logic.

One such example came from Torange Khonsari who curated an MA program called Design for Cultural Commons at the London Metropolitan University. One of the issues that she has run in is how to make the program more accessible. A big step forward was making it possible to enroll in the program without having obtained a bachelor’s degree given that one can show substantial experience in the field of commons. However, Torange recognized that there is still work to do to make the program financially feasible for a larger group of people.

Additionally we heard from Silke Helfrich and David Bollier about their experience with commoning practices at higher education, which entailed three different components – think, do & embody.

The topic of embodiment emerged as a redline throughout the workshop. We were prompted to really think about the question: What does it mean to become a commoner or co-producer? How will I give shape to the act of commoning? Furthermore, we must avoid the practice of commoning just becoming another buzzword without a deeper foundation in the individuals who practice it. For more inspiration, Silke and David will present their new book Free, Fair and Alive: The Insurgent Power of the Commons at Pakhuis De Zwijger today at 20h.

During the past week the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research also hosted a lecture about the tragedy of inequality in the global commons that we attended. This lecture, given by Joyeeta Gupta looked at the work of Garrett Hardin from a very critical lens. She agreed that Hardin indeed had the right diagnosis in recognizing the environmental limits of our planet, however, his conclusions stand in stark contrast to the universal declaration of human rights. For example, Hardin sees the ‘freedom to breed’ as intolerable and operates on an ‘America first’ type of logic, thus advocating against food aid to the developing countries. Furthermore, justifications for his principles come down to his preference for injustice compared to total ruin.

For more details Garrett Hardin’s work read Matto Mildenberger’s earlier blog post on The Tragedy of the Tragedy of the Commons.

Professor Gupta’s take on Hardin’s position is that we need to develop a convincing counter-narrative(s). One might think that the postulation of Sustainable Development Goals means that Hardinian values are dead, however, there are multiple examples such as the Mediterranean crisis in which we do not react responsibly. Additionally, Hardin’s solution to the exploitation of common resources seemed to be the enclosure of commons, which has lead to growing disparities in access to resources throughout the world. A powerful way to start countering the divisive and exploitative Hardinian logic would be reclaiming back the narrative around commons. Now more than ever we need the spirit of stewardship, sustainability and reciprocity!