Thu 10 May 2018 7:45AM

Representations of commons organisation

M mike_hales Public Seen by 148

Turnout was small in the poll on Representations of commons organisation - 3 persons. But here's a thread anyway. I invite discussion of: ways of conceptualising commons organisation, forms of presentation of concepts (including diagrams and schemas as well as bullet-lists, essays and books) , and technologies for sharing, evolving and mobilising representations (Loomio, wiki, etc). Yes, I include the notorious pattern language! - where the model is a cute and challenging hybrid presentation of words and schematics, underpinned with powerful and practically-rooted but complex (even poetic) concepts . . . presented through a clunky old technology (?), the 200-page hard-copy book.

This is a L A R G E canvas. So I'm thinking about scope just now and expect to revise this context statement in due course - or maybe, split the thread. Please comment if you have thoughts on making the scope of the discussion manageable (by subdividing it? by ditching parts of it?), or pointers to locations where some of this ground has inevitably been turned over before.

For example, please make links to explorations of 'how to organise/produce a commons of kind 'x'. I don't mean abstract principles (eg Marjorie Kelly's 5 x 2 'patterns' of generative/extractive business conduct, which are very broad), I mean concrete, contextualised practices. I propose that 'organisation' in the title of this thread should be seen as activity-verb, rather than structure-noun. Although . . . maybe you feel that structure-pictures are essential tools? Has anyone ever seen a diagram of Dmytri Kleiner's venture commune?

Perhaps this thread might lead towards a library (or map) of links - Whole Earth Catalogue-wise - as distinct from a deep in-thread discussion of representations/conceptualisations, a bible?


Danyl Strype Tue 15 May 2018 5:02PM


Currently, states generally don’t run as commons

I agree with your overall point about the neo-liberal direction of travel, the push to convert the commons held in trust by states into social enterprises owned by the state as assets. One example that really angers me is the recent habit in my country (Aotearoa/ NZ) of fencing off the grounds of our publicly-owned and operated schools, and locking the gates outside school hours, as if they were private property. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. There are states where neo-liberalism hasn’t really taken hold (eg Finland) and despite decades of neo-liberal asset stripping in countries where it has, there are still plenty of non-commercial commons governed by states and/or local government; the public road networks are an obvious example, as are public parks (ironically, here in China the parks are heavily fenced, guarded, and locked after dark. An example of public ownership with special Chinese characteristics ;) ).

Like the neo-liberal state, or the USSR/ PRC style state (a state operated like a monopoly corporation with “the people” as the only customer), each of the four economies in Murray’s diagram (5 if we give the volunteer sector it’s own blob independent of the NGO-driven ‘grant economy’) also has extractive, propertarian modes. In the household, the propertarian mode is patriarchy, where the children perform chattel labour for the parents, and the wife for the husband, who claims ownership of all the goods produced by the household as his private wealth. In the market, as you say, it’s the corporation. In the grant economy, it’s the corporate-funded think tanks and “development” agencies; my friend Tazia Gaisford wrote Masters thesis proposing a hybrid of permaculture and anarchism, not as a form of “development”, but as a replacement for development.

What about the volunteer economy? I’m not aware of an extractive mode in this domain, but I think that’s a blind spot in my own thinking, resulting from my volunteerist biases. Love to hear any thoughts anyone else has on this subject (@asimong @liammurphy ?)

When I raised the question of ‘where to put the commons’ in this diagram, I was thinking of actually-existing commons economies.

Do you not agree that the example I gave for each of the four (or five) economies are actually-existing commons?
* state-governed commons: national parks and electro-magnetic spectrum, to public health and education systems.
* household-based commons: common kitchen, bathroom, living areas, and outdoor recreation areas and gardens, shared food supply, shared vehicles,  food coops, babysitting clubs
* market-based commons: farmers markets, social enterprises creating free code (eg MySQL, Loomio) or selling support for or products built around free code (eg Linux kernel, Koha), also credit unions, mutual assurance companies, and other cooperatives
* grant-based commons: foundations/ trusts, including those that govern development of free code software (Linux Foundation, Ubuntu Foundation) and other peer production projects (eg Wikimedia Foundation, OpenStreetMap Foundation, WikiHouse Foundation)
* volunteer+donation-based commons: informal free code projects. Hosting collectives like RiseUp.net. The Indymedia network (what’s left of it)

Maybe I still don't understand the question. Is it something to do with how these examples of commons connect up where the blobs overlap?


mike_hales Tue 15 May 2018 8:14PM

Thanks for stretching this out @strypey . Would like to pick it up but I've a busy few days ahead so will have to let it drop for now. Will come back and consider this probing though.

Perhaps something I put into the last para of the 'park bench' comment below would give a sense of my perspective, concerning the enduring nature and broad multi-stakeholder governance of commons? On that basis I'm unsure whether some of your examples are commons - as distinct from things that we would want to be commons. Must go now!


Liam Murphy Thu 18 Jul 2019 6:51AM

HI @strypey - Sorry to miss you at Conway Hall and sorry it took so long to see this comment. Just in relation to extractivism in volunteer networks. I'm afraid I have seen this in Great Yarmouth - something like a 'sink town' as they've been called in the UK, where price rises have literally seen the poor 'traded out' to low rent areas. The use of 'volunteers' in this environment is often a way for competing 'trusts, foundations and usual suspects' to coral human capital as a trigger to releasing finance for socially financed projects of 'improvement'. The volunteers rarely see any of the financial resource, or make decisions about its distribution/use beyond carefully crafted 'consultation and evidence gathering' sessions. Its an art! I have circulated an open accounting document to all organisations and individuals concerned. All bar the library (bless 'em) have ignored it - despite its call for a distributed ledger of public moneys received and spent. They account inwardly, give future promises of social benefits and largely self evaluate. The moneys gained never find their way directly to the volunteerist communities they purport to help and a few organisations have grown into 'community oriented' great white sharks - chaperoning 'investment' which simply runs out and requires another round of funding. There have been some material gains - a theatre, some renovated properties etc - but there are no enlightened ownership models to make these anything other than part of the general extraction of public funds. I'd love to come here with a happy missive - but hopefully that speaks to the question! Liam


Danyl Strype Mon 14 May 2018 7:12AM

I find I'm very sensitive to "what works" in communication. I don't
really need diagrams and illustrations for my own understanding, and
often find them confusing at first, but I appreciate them very much as
tools that help me make sense to others, at times when my floods of
words leave people smiling and nodding, and backing away ;-P

I'm fascinating by your poetic descriptions of your cognitive modes.
They reminded me of a wonderful interactive sculpture garden opposite
the Arts Centre in Ōtautahi, Aotearoa (NZ), that attempts to communicate
the inner experiences of those with dyslexia to those that do not. Do
you identify with any of the common experiences of dyslexia by any
chance? No judgement implied, just curious:


mike_hales Tue 15 May 2018 7:56PM

'Poetic descriptions of cognitive modes' . . . the 'spatial' stuff feels damn near literal, inner and outer space continuous, the body having a kinaesthetic existence in both simultaneously, and experiences occurring within some kind of spatial field. Maybe this could be some kind of synesthesia (one sense mapped into another); but I would then say that synaesthesia maybe is nowhere near as rare as it's made out to be, and exists in all sorts of forms. There are lots of metaphors of mental 'space' and I guess I always take them as being more literal than metaphorical (and more whole-body than between-the-ears). Thinking is very much a kinaesthetic process.

Dyslexia . . no.


Liam Murphy Mon 14 May 2018 10:23AM

Please forgive scant attention to this thread which deserves careful study. I only had one thought: Diagrams which set out 'market, state, grant, households' etc as pillars around and through which commons/social activity flows seem useful for a broad understanding. But can they obfuscate clear eyed, simple questions of people trying to understand their potential roles as commoners - perhaps? The idea that, for example, 'the grant sector' is more 'social' than the 'market sector' isn't very helpful... I'm wondering if there is a modelling tool (for you system thinkers) for individual and specific common acts and deeds. Take for example, the common need for benches to sit/rest on in a town centre. All four sectors may collaborate or act individually to meet this need. But, is there a way of modelling this particular common, which might extend to other commons in relation to how its need is measured, who provides it, who has authority over it, how are each of the sectors paid for their provision/contribution to it? etc... No doubt there would be comparative models, but might this not enable people to begin to see commoning in a more applied, case-specific way, which they could more easily imagine themselves fitting into? Maybe this model already exists..? All best... LM


mike_hales Tue 15 May 2018 10:37AM

First thought @liammurphy regarding the ‘big blobs’ . . . If we go with the ‘big four’ sectors in Robin Murrays’ diagram, it’s obviously unhelpful, as you say, to then apply a stereotype such as “the grant sector’ is more ‘social’ than the ‘market sector”. What I now realise is, a diagram like the one I posted is a prompt to do further, more detailed analysis or conversation. What it actually represents is not discrete spheres of practice, but differing regimes of what, in my tradition of economic thinking, are called relations of production. The relations of production in the capitalist market (compulsion to engage in wage labour, private ownership of means of production, extraction of surplus value under private ownership, money-makes-money-makes-money) are different from relations of production in the collective of households (things like ‘gifting’, or ‘neighbourliness’ or ‘making the environment pleasing’ or simply ‘meeting immediate need with immediate action’; also power relations like ‘doing what your mother says because she’s boss’ etc).

There are kinds of business-in-the-market that are ‘social’ - called ‘social enterprise’, coops, etc - which succeed in shedding to some extent the dominant relations of the capitalist market (eg coops shed private ownership of means of production, replacing it with common ownership). An admittedly simple diagram like we’re talking about is then simply a set of prompts to dig down, and discover just what the relations of production are, in a present situation, and what we want them to be. The fifth ‘blob’ overlaid on the other four - labelled ‘social economy’ in Robin’s case (‘commons-based economy’ would carry us further) - is a prompt to identify just what the distinctive relations of production are, in a commons economy - the governance principles of this particular commons. And then to create enterprises (in a broadest sense) that are rigorously structured by them - drawing on the practice and resources of households, voluntary sector, firms, local government, whatever, in a specific way - and to escape or buffer or undercut the prevailing ones.

A picture is never ‘worth a thousand words’. But it can be the start of a thousand further more detailed and attentive conversations and explorations.


mike_hales Tue 15 May 2018 10:46AM

Second thought @liammurphy on ‘enabling people to begin to see commoning in a more applied, case-specific way’ and 'clear eyed, simple questions of people trying to understand their potential roles as commoners' . . . Yes, agree completely, this is at the heart of things, we have to live commons. I think that the park-bench-commons situation sits low down in a hierarchy of ‘design’ choices (which doesn’t make it unimportant, just very concrete, under the influence of many wider layers of economic and cultural organisation - including states, markets, neighbourhoods, etc).

There happen to be patterns bearing on the park-bench situation in Alexander’s architectural pattern language; for example 61 Small Public Squares/69 Public Room/176 Garden Seat. In a commoning pattern language there would be patterns of these kinds (perhaps actually adaptations of these same architectural patterns?). But - as in Alexander’s language - they get deployed under the umbrella of higher-level patterns (Pedestrian Street, Web of Shopping, Mix of Subcultures, City/Country Fingers, Independent Regions, Community of 7000, etc etc) which not only form part of the built environment (economic/cultural environment) but also are part of the (shared) literacy of the individual creative activist people who live there.

Thus, with a park bench (or policy on park benches?) the way of getting it done would depend on just what the local state was like (Partner State or not?), just what the local businesses and voluntary organisations were like (a Makerspace? a Men’s Shed? an old people’s Day Centre? a philanthropist? a wooden furniture-making company? a social enterprise to maintain public infrastructure?), etc. It would be achieved in a concrete way, as a concrete step to living in a commoned world, drawing on the movements towards commons-sensibility that were already present in the local economy and culture. A pattern language is systemic, which means that it's used for working 'backwards', 'up' the hierarchy of system layers into the 'big blobs' (for example, pulling the local State further into Partner State mode), as well as 'downwards', into details.And while there might be a generalised pattern for 'Places to sit in public', the way of putting the pattern to work in any actual setting would depend on what other patterns (commons-oriented and otherwise - perhaps 'public-private' infrastructure partnerships? bureaucratic local government?) that were in fact at work in that setting. And the chances of a person seeing the need for a park bench and setting out to get one in place would be conditioned by what other Commoning patterns were in the air, in the culture of that town or neighbourhood.

The park bench wouldn’t be a commons - as distinct from being a kind, public-spirited thing to do, which any casual passer-by could sit on - unless the commitments of resources were explicitly determined now and stewarded in future by an enduring collective of providers and beneficiaries, under enduring agreements. In a viable Commoning pattern language, these would be ‘cemented’ by higher-level patterns, also commoned, held in common, in common ‘literacy’. Lower-level patterns too, like Cleaning the Park Today. It’s a web of literate activist people, and material and legal resource commitments - and actual dispositions of stuff. right down to the street furniture.


Liam Murphy Tue 15 May 2018 11:09AM

This is very interesting Mike..

I can see a need for some pattern mapping (overlays if that makes sense) - eg, patterns of commoning and ‘models’ of ‘social enterprise ‘ .. I’ve done a bit of work with folk at Cambridge Uni on this and I’ll ask them for some source materials... not sure it’s in my remit at the moment but can see something very productive in doing it.

Cheers, Liam


mike_hales Thu 31 May 2018 5:47PM

Patterns in creating civil-society networks

In 2014 the TRANSIT EU-funded international research project (TRANSformative Social Innovation Theory) published its reports and a manifesto for Transformative Social innovation. The networks covered by case-study reports are listed here - 20 transnational networks, 25+ countries. You may want to check these out, they're quite diverse in content?

This is not the usual 'social innovation' hand-waving. Although academics and EU-funded, the researchers are oriented to 'regime change' (this is what the 'transformative' in TRANSIT means).However, not all of the networks studied are necessarily in quite the same place. AFAIK Impact Hubs, for example, are 'social innovators' and local enterprise startup hubs (as well as doing necessary kindness-and-survival stuff like operating food banks), rather than seeking to bring the walls down, or create islands of commoning.

Examining all twenty civil-society networks, the research generated a collection of 'grounded theory' tags. These might (question mark) be regarded as the beginnings of a pattern language - for civil-society networks intended to change social relations.What d'you make of 'em?

Load More