Commons

Authored by: Fruela Fernández

The Routledge Encyclopedia of Citizen Media

Print publication date:  October  2020
Online publication date:  October  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138665569
eBook ISBN: 9781315619811
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9781315619811-13

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Abstract

Originating ‘in medieval-era English property law’, the commons has become a fundamental concept for activism and alternative political thought across the world since the 1990s. In general terms, most scholars would agree that the commons refer to a variety of goods (understood in a broad sense) that do not belong to a single individual, but are shared, used, and protected by a community (e.g. a field, a wood or a lake). However, the ramifications of this general principle, which is present in many cultures across the world, are complex; equally, the ways in which it has evolved as a contemporary political concept are disputed and have generated a variety of divergent interpretations, to the extent that some scholars have suggested it should be understood as an ‘umbrella concept’. This entry will address the historical and intellectual complexity of the commons by presenting an overview of the key debates in the field, which mainly touch upon the composition of the commons (material/immaterial, goods/practices) and their relationship with capitalism (coexistence, alternative model or rejection). After discussing the main differences and commonalities between current understandings of the concept, it will explore its contemporary applications across digital activism (Wikipedia, Creative Commons), housing and banking initiatives, and social movements (post-2008 movement of the squares).

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