That was quite a week in Berlin! The Economics and the Commons Conference was an intense convergence of more than 200 commoners from thirty-plus countries. It featured six amazing keynote talks, breakout sessions for five streams of discussion, extensive networking and bridge-building among commons activists, and action-planning in nine self-organized side events.
If the landmark 2010 International Commons Conference let commoners meet for the first time and see that there was in fact a larger global community, the 2013 Economics and the Commons Conference showed how advanced the dialogue and projects have become, and revealed the many new frontiers of intellectual and political exploration.
To give you a sense of the wide range of people participating, there were activists fighting enclosures in Asia and Latin America; a Brazilian seed activist; an Amsterdam digital money designer; an Icelandic activist attempting to crowdsource democracy; a German sociologist who studies sustainable lifestyles and urban gardening, a leading champion of cooperatives from the UK; several French digital rights activists; a forest commons researcher from India; an American collaborative consumption advocate; a fab lab coordinator from Montreal; a Finnish artist-organizer involved with peer-to-peer developments; a commons education organizer from Barcelona; an EU official concerned with participatory leadership and collective intelligence; an Indonesian activist focused on alternative governance of natural resources and energy; among many, many others.
It is impossible to encapsulate the highlights of the conference right now, but a full conference report will be released in about two months. In the meantime, here are a few outcomes of the conference that I find significant:
- New dialogues were initiated to explore how we might treat infrastructure as a commons – a framing and analysis that have not been well developed from the commoners perspective.
- A number of commoners who specialize on credit and money want to develop a new currency to facilitate non-market exchange among commoners. Jem Bendell’s keynote remarks were particularly galvanizing in this regard.
- Feminist concerns about caring and care work (especially for children and elderly) were more directly brought into discussions about commoning and how new public policies might be crafted.
- Water activists from many countries came together to plan new commons-oriented strategies.
- Stefano Rodota, the Italian law scholar/politician, gave a bracing opening talk calling for the recognition of commoning as a basic human right protected by constitutional law and international law.
- Ugo Mattei, the Italian scholar/activist, described the raw political challenges of “commonifying” municipal public services in Naples – a sobering story that suggests the difficulties that commoners will face in displacing current governance regimes.
- Andreas Weber set forth an exciting reinterpretation of biological reality and what it means for our unexamined conceptions of economics, policy and politics. His "Enlivenment" essay helps explain why our subjective feelings of being alive and our sense-making capacities have everything to do with successful commons.
- After their side-event on communications about the commons, a variety of blogs, websites and publications made plans to coordinate their activities more closely.
- A variety of commons education projects met in a side event to plan how their could collaborate more effectively in the future.
Two websites created for the conference are hosting a lot of materials prepared before and during the conference. These are the conference communications platform – http://commonsandeconomics.org -- and the conference wiki. You can find a wealth of fascinating materials there.
Some of the most enduring results of the conference are not documents and knowledge, but new relationships made in the corridors and dining area of the Heinrich Boell Foundation, the host of the conference. (The other co-organizers were the Commons Strategies Group, the Charles Leopold Mayer Foundation, and Remix the Commons.) For some participants, the conference was a chance to catch up with old friends; for others, it was a chance to see how rich and extensive global commons networks truly are. This, indeed, may be one of the most lasting results of the conference -- the growing self-awareness of ourselves as a commons movement and the fuller extent of its thinking and activism.
Of course, not everyone experiences the commons in the same way, which can sometimes result in tensions and disagreement. The circumstances and history of commoners from industrialized countries with extensive government institutions are quite different from those of smaller, poorer, once-colonized countries. These different historical experiences and orientations to the future require our attention. So, too, does the role of gender in care work and caring – a topic that needs to be understood and embraced by a wider array of commoners.
The complicated challenges of developing alternative currencies – a topic once confined to specialist ghettos and certain localities – needs to be brought into the mainstream of commons work, especially as the means to develop commons currencies grows and as austerity policies make it more difficult for people to meet their basic needs.
Fortunately, the conference initiated a number of new conversations that will help us meet these challenges in the months and years ahead. I hope, for example, that dialogues between commoners and the Solidarity, Transition and cooperative movements, and with scholars of the commons, will intensify. I think that the cultural divide between “natural resource commoners” and “digital commoners” is starting to be bridged. The pioneering work of Italian commoners may provide some useful examples for others to emulate.
In the coming week, while recovering from the conference, I hope to blog about some of the issues that cropped up. But I will save a more indepth synthesis for the ECC report, in August.