At the recent Economics and the Commons Conference, the charismatic Jem Bendell, Professor of Sustainability Leadership at the University of Cambia (UK), made an offhand reference to “commoneering.” The novel term is apparently a play on the terms “commandeer” and “pioneer.” I must admit, the words had a nice, solid ring to it. I think it’s the hard “eer” that sounds so good; it have a more assertive tone than the more familiar “commoning.” Commoneering almost has a certain aura of cool to it.
But should we embrace such a new term? The topic provoked more controversy than I might have imagined – and perhaps deservedly so. The arguments generally went like this: “Commoneering” implies that there is a certain class of people who are skilled in designing a commons or in pioneering its development. The word implies this group of expert designers work separately from ordinary commoners and have some special knowledge for setting them apart as “commoneers.”
This, of course, is an affront to the very idea of commoning. It implies that commoneering is something that is different from (and better than?) “ordinary” commoning. Commoning is something that all the talents of the entire community do together, in collaboration. Commoneering feels vaguely elitist.
This may be reading a lot into a term that was, after all, presented in a rather casual manner. Bendell didn’t even really give a serious definition to the term. And I usually don’t like for anyone to set themselves up as “language police.”
But to the extent that commoneering has a substantive meaning that is different from commoning, I think it may be best to simply avoid using the term. It invites needless controversy. We have plenty of serious challenges to meet without wading into a swamp of linguistic debates about a term that we don't seem to need. Why not nip this one in the bud?
By the way, Jem Bendells’ talk on money and credit as a commons was terrific. I highly recommend that you watch the video of his talk here.