On June 21, I gave a presentation to a number of staffers and others at the Agence Française de Développement in Paris outlining my vision of the commons as an alternative vision of "development." The talk was entitled "Beyond Development: The Commons as a New/Old Paradigm of Human Flourishing." Here are my prepared remarks:
I am grateful to be back in your lovely city, and I am grateful for your invitation to speak today about the commons as a new vision of “development.” As the planet reels from the slow-motion catastrophe of climate change, we are seeing the distinct limits of the prevailing paradigms of economic thought, governance, law and politics. While collapse and catastrophe have their own lurid attraction to many, the human species – and our governments – have a duty to seriously entertain the questions: What new structures and logics will serve us better? How can we better meet basic human needs – not just materially, but socially and spiritually? And can we move beyond rhetoric and general abstractions to practical, concrete actions?
After studying the commons for nearly twenty years as an independent scholar and activist, I have come to the conclusion that the commons hold great promise in answering these questions. But it is not a ready-made “solution” so much as a general paradigm and organizing perspective – embodied, fortunately, in thousands of instructive examples. The commons is a lens that helps us understand what it means to be a human being in meaningful relation to other people and to the Earth. This then becomes the standard by which we try to design our social institutions.
Talking about the commons forces us to grapple with the checkered history of “development” policy and what it reveals about global capitalism and poorer, marginalized countries. We have long known that development objectives tend to reflect the political priorities of rich, industrialized western nations, particularly their interests in economic growth and private capital accumulation.