The following is an interview that Silke Helfrich gave to Michel Bauwens about the assembling and editing of the anthology Patterns of Commoning, which has recently been posted online at Patternsofcommoning.org. In coming weeks, I will be posting selected chapters from the book here.
Bauwens: Silke, could you first give some background about yourself and your collaboration with David Bollier in editing your books about the commons?
Helfrich: I feel cosmopolitan, but my roots are in the hilly countryside of East Germany, near the German border — the “system border” between capitalism and socialism until 1989. I currently live in Jena, Germany, and will soon move to the South where I will try to remodel a house that is exactly 500 years older than I am. This is an experience that makes me feel humbled because it brings me face-to-face with the realities of making something “sustainable.”
Since 2007 I have work closely with David Bollier, an American activist. We often describe what we do (along with you, Michel Bauwens, the third member of the Commons Strategies Group) as “seeding new conversations.” Just like farmers, we cannot really know how big and copious the harvest will be, or when exactly it will come. But we keep seeding to help making the commons visible at different levels:
1. As collective resources, both material and immaterial, which need protection and require a lot of knowledge and know-how; 2. As social processes that foster and deepen thriving relationships; and 3. As a new mode of production that I call the Commons-Creating Peer Economy, or Commons-Oriented Economy.
I’d even say that there is a fourth level: the Commons as a worldview, as the expression of an ongoing paradigm shift now underway.
B: Is Patterns of Commoning an effort to sow seeds that will make the commons visible?
H: Absolutely! It is the second of three books that explore different aspects of the commons. The first began in 2010, when together with David and almost 80 contributors from all over the world, and thanks to the tremendous support of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, we started to work on an anthology called The Wealth of the Commons. That book was originally planed to sketch out the philosophical and policy foundations for a commons-friendly politics. But we quickly realized that we first had to introduce the commons and explain why we believe that commons having very different practices and resources – so-called traditional commons of land and water, for example, and digital commons on the other hand – are in fact related. They may look very different based on the resources managed, but in essence they have a lot in common – a social commitment to manage the resources responsibly, fairly and in inclusive ways.
The Wealth of the Commons became longer and longer, and so we ended up doing what commoners often do when there is an unsolvable conflict: we forked the project. David and I started thinking about a volume 2, which in 2015 became Patterns of Commoning, an anthology of profiles of successful commons and an exploration of the inner dimensions of commoning. Mid-way through this book, after maybe a dozen of concept versions of it, we realized that all good things come in threes, so we committed to a third volume, this one on the macro-political, economic and cultural dimensions of a commons-based society.