Commons Knowledge

Week 2 of the Summer Doctoral Programme (see reports on last week’s sessions) is underway, and we were right at it at 9am with a session hosted by Lewis Hyde, Rob Faris and Wendy Seltzer. The fun title was “Making the Tragedy of the Commons into a Comedy” and the focus was quite theoretical and historical – very useful for putting a few other themes of the week in context. Having looked at extracts from Peter Barnes’ Capitalism 3.0 and Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks, we discussed Hardin’s classic “Tragedy of the Commons” and the challenges to its vision of the inevitable destruction of the commons.

Helpful clarity was provided by a focus on the ‘stinting’ of commons; a related topic was that of the right to ‘tear down encroachments’ (and Wendy Seltzer’s provocative – but correct – parallel with digital rights management, in order to defend “fair breakage”). A familar argument was that of the difference between public domains and commons-based systems (like the GPL) and the necessity for stewardship (whether formal or informal).

The main visual cue was the useful matrix of rivalrous and excludable goods, and an extended discussion of (as one participant put it) how going from “atoms to bits” change these balances.

Further readings were suggested by our presenters: including Hess and Ostrum’s Understanding Knowledge As A Commons (PDF of chapter 1) and Carol Rose’s classic Comedy Of The Commons.

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