The Optics of the Commons

Do you have a memory of entering a space that gives you a sense of belonging? This could be anything from a place in nature to a community gathering. Now imagine yourself in this place for a moment and notice how just the memory makes you feel alive.


The Optics of the Commons video series, curated by Instituto Procomum, invites the viewer to reflect on the fundamental experience of commons. Guided by sixteen Brazilian activists and experts, the series seeks to illustrate what commons really mean to the whole of humanity. Below you can find snapshots of three of the interviews:

Kum’tum Akroá-Gamella, from the Akroá-Gamella people, northeast of Brazil, sees commons as an essential place for reproduction, both physically and culturally. Think of a river where people fish, eat and thus ensure physiological survival. By time, the same riverside also becomes a source of enchantment, a place of significant cultural value. What’s more, these daily actions connected to nature are away of unlearning the push for growth and progress that has come to dominate our modern life. Learning from those who never withdrew from the life in dialogue with other living beings is one of the possible avenues for change, away from the utter disrespect for life that seems to plague our modern lifestyle.

A related approach to commons is also presented by Bianca Santa. She views commons as places to gather and create cultural conditions for existence, pivotal especially for marginalized groups. Above all, commons are a space to share vital energy. This spiritual aspect of commons is in the core of empowering people whose culture is under existential threat. 

Additionally, João Brant brings in an interesting viewpoint of commons as a reference and an experience: “Commons means production geared towards sharing and a permanent cycle of learning and distribution based on sharing”. In other words, commons are not only defined by norms and rules but also by the very processes that keep the commons alive. 

As the common thread through the series, the livelihood that commoning seems to entail comes forth. In the light of J.S. Scott’s assertion in his book Seeing like a State (1998), that any formal scheme of organization will fail to serve its original purpose if informal processes are not taken into account, it makes sense that the informal aspects of commons – the embodiment and practice – are the source of its attractiveness and vitality.

Especially, in the context of the current ecological crisis, Commons Network recommends you to take a moment to watch the series and ponder the question: What meaning do commons have for our existence?