Who Cares about the Commons?

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<ul><li><p>This article was downloaded by: [Dalhousie University]On: 09 October 2014, At: 13:54Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number:1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street,London W1T 3JH, UK</p><p>Capitalism NatureSocialismPublication details, including instructionsfor authors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rcns20</p><p>Who Cares about theCommons?Jose JohnstonPublished online: 03 Jun 2008.</p><p>To cite this article: Jose Johnston (2003) Who Cares about the Commons?,Capitalism Nature Socialism, 14:4, 1-41, DOI: 10.1080/10455750308565544</p><p>To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10455750308565544</p><p>PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE</p><p>Taylor &amp; Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy ofall the information (the Content) contained in the publicationson our platform. 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Any substantial or systematic reproduction,redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply,or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden.Terms &amp; Conditions of access and use can be found at http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Dal</p><p>hous</p><p>ie U</p><p>nive</p><p>rsity</p><p>] at</p><p> 13:</p><p>54 0</p><p>9 O</p><p>ctob</p><p>er 2</p><p>014 </p><p>http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionshttp://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions</p></li><li><p>ESSAY </p><p>Who Cares about the Commons? </p><p>By Josbe Johnston* </p><p>1. Introduction: Comparing Sustainable Development and the Commons </p><p>Sustainability has come to imply sustainable profits as much as "saving the earth." Corporate oil and gas executives speak of sustainable fossil fuel emissions. Green entrepreneurs use sustainability claims as a market advantage over competitors. Businesses in multiple sectors - from car manufacturers to energy bars - develop "sustainability plans" for their operations. Given this linguistic hijacking, it becomes unclear how we are to adjudicate amongst competing environmental discourses and ways of life. What can be deemed genuinely sustainable? Is eating a Clif Bar more sustainable than a Power Bar?' Is driving an electric car truly sustainable, or are self-locomotion and public transit the only genuinely sustainable transportation solutions? Which solutions advance biospheric integrity, </p><p> h he author would like to thank John McMurtry, James Goodman, Ulrich Brand, Gordon Laxer, and Ineke Locke and anonymous reviewers at CNS for their helpful commentary on the ideas in this article, as well as acknowledge the financial assistance of a Social Science and Humanities Council of Canada (SSHRC) doctoral and post-doctoral fellowship for this research. This article will appear in a forthcoming volume, R e c 1 a i m i n g Sustainability, edited by JosCe Johnston, Mike Gismondi, and James Goodman, published by Zed Books. h his comparison was made by a sustainability consultant for Clif Bar, Elsya Hammond, who observed that Berkley Based Power Bar had been bought out by Nestle in February 2000, whereas Clif Bar remains a relatively small privately owned company, is GMO-free, contains at least 70 percent organic ingredients, and is aspiring towards 100 percent organic. To see Clif Bar's material on their sustainability commitments, at </p></li><li><p>and which are primarily designed to socialize market externalities and further goals of capital accumulation? </p><p>A narrow line separates meaningful sustainability programs from public relations campaigns. This article provides a framework for analyzing sustainability claims, and argues for the heuristic utility of the commons discourse in this task. Comparing sustainable development and the commons discourses provides tools to evaluate how power, inequality, and ecological devastation are legitimized and perpetuated through discursive construction^.^ Because environmental discourses tell competing stories about the world around us, they affect how societies do and do not respond to ecological ~ r i s e s . ~ Discourses are not static ontological creatures, but reflect ongoing power struggles over relations of ruling. This means that discourses can be poured into very different bottles than when they are first articulatedS4 This article has two tasks: 1) to examine the ongoing struggles to control the terms and limits of sustainable development and commons discourses, and 2) to make some suggestive and preliminary comparisons between these two discourses. This methodology reflects a belief in the importance of understanding the normative and symbolic components of ecological ~ r i s e s , ~ while insisting that discourses do not ethereally float in a separate ontological realm of existence. Analysis of discourse must be accompanied by study of political-ecological variables, such as concentrations of wealth and power and ecological risks6 </p><p>2 ~ h e term discourse is used here to refer to "an interrelated set of texts, and the practices of their production, dissemination, and reception, that brings an object into being." Nelson Phillips and Cynthia Hardy, Discourse Analysis: Investigating Processes of Social Construction (Thousand Oaks CA: Sage Publications, 2002), p. 3. The concept of discourse is broader than collective action "frames" used by specific social movement organizations, and constructs limits around what can, and cannot be discussed, understood, and contested. Nancy Naples, "Materialist Feminist Discourse Analysis and Social Movement Research: Mapping the Changing Context for 'Community Control,"' in D. Meyer, N. Whittier, and B. Robnett, eds., Social Movements: Identity, Culture, and the State (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 226-246. 3 ~ o h n Dryzek, The Politics of the Earth. Environmental Discourses (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997). 4 ~ a p l e s , op. cit. S ~ o b y Smith, The Myth of Green Marketing: Tending Our Goats at the Edge of Apocalypse (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998). 6 ~ n y discourse analysis must make clear that linguistic relationships are never simply "empty" metaphors, unconnected to some "real" world of physical plants and animals. Social constructs both shape empirical reality, </p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Dal</p><p>hous</p><p>ie U</p><p>nive</p><p>rsity</p><p>] at</p><p> 13:</p><p>54 0</p><p>9 O</p><p>ctob</p><p>er 2</p><p>014 </p></li><li><p>While the sustainability lexicon is now ubiquitous in business circles, the discourse of "the commons" has rising cultural cachet within the global justice m ~ v e m e n t . ~ Goldman's survey of the term concludes: </p><p>The commons - a material and symbolic reality, always changing, never purely local or global, traditional or modern, and always reflecting the vibrant colors of its ecological, political cultural, scientific and social character - is not at all disappearing into the dustbin of history. The contrary, we find that the commons are increasingly becoming a site for robust and tangible struggles over class, gender, nationlethnicity, knowledge, power and, of course, n a t ~ r e . ~ </p><p>As global warming becomes an undeniable reality there is increasing discussion about a "global atmospheric commons," while discussion of the rainforests are frequently described as part of </p><p>and are simultaneously constituted by that reality. Pierre Bourdieu, In Other Words: Essays Towards a Reflexive Sociology (Oxford: Polity Press, 1990), p. 130. In his work on the ethics of place, Smith forcefully resists the idea that moral spaces are simply metaphors, insisting that "our ethical architecture forbids or facilitates behavior just as effectively as walls or windows." Mick Smith, "Against the Enclosure of the Ethical Commons: Radical Environmentalism as an 'Ethics of Place,"' Environmental Ethics, 18, Winter, 1997, p. 341. 7 ~ h e "global justice movement" is one term used by activists to describe the movement against corporate globalization, or anti-globalization movement. The movement is also referred to as "globalization from below," and "world civil society," among other terms. g ~ i c h a e l Goldman, "Introduction: The Political Resurgence of the Commons," in M. Goldman, ed., Privatizing Nature: Political Struggles for the Global Commons (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1998), p. 14. </p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Dal</p><p>hous</p><p>ie U</p><p>nive</p><p>rsity</p><p>] at</p><p> 13:</p><p>54 0</p><p>9 O</p><p>ctob</p><p>er 2</p><p>014 </p></li><li><p>humani ty ' s " common lung^."^ An International Forum on Globalization publication on alternatives to globalization contains a section on the privatization of life, and "reclaiming the commons."10 In their critique of modern development projects, Gustavo Esteva and Madhu Suri Prakash identify "people's power" embodied in the struggle to sustain a radically democratic commons (1998: l52).l North American groups, like the Tomales Bay Institute and the Council of Canadians, establish forums and web pages organized around the concept.12 An article in New Left Review by Naomi Klein focuses on the commons as the key point uniting the Zapatistas, anti-globalization protesters in Seattle, youth anarchists, and the thousands of other groups resisting global capitalist encroachment: </p><p>The spirit they share is a radical reclaiming of the commons. As our communal spaces - town squares, streets, schools, farms, plants - are displaced by the ballooning marketplace, a spirit of resistance is taking hold around the world. People are reclaiming bits of nature and of culture, and saying "this is going to be public space."13 </p><p>The pressing question for many social justice and environmental activists seems to be less about how we can achieve sustainable development, and more about how we can reclaim the commons. How is the commons discourse different from sustainable development, and how is this challenge counter-hegemonic? With all of the differing metaphors available to evaluate the complex human-nature relationship, </p><p>9 ~ o h n Vogler, The Global Commons: Environmental and Technological Governance. 2nd Edition (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 2000), p. 1; S. Buck, The Global Commons: An Introduction (Washington, DC: Island Press, 1998). 11nternational Forum on Globalization, Report Summary: A Better World Is Possible! Alternatives to Economic Globalization, Spring, 2002. l l ~ u s t a v o Esteva and M. S. Prakash, Grassroots Post-modernism: Remaking the Soil of Cultures. (New York: Zed Books, 1999), p. 152. 1 2 ~ o r an explicit articulation of the commons, see the Tomales Bay website at: </p></li><li><p>how are we to explain the increasing popularity of the commons discourse? Is this simply a sexy catch phrase that has little relationship to "real" life or eco-social crises, vulnerable to the same critiques made of deep ecologists (combining ethical superiority with political nai'vet6)?14 In an age of corporate globalization, heightened militarization, terrorist threats, and the McDonaldization of global culture, who cares about the commons? </p><p>I address this question by juxtaposing two major discourses that address eco-social relationships - sustainable development and the commons - and suggest reasons why the second is increasingly prominent in, and relevant for the global justice movement. Using selected texts from a variety of public interventions, I construct an ideal-type comparison focused on six major axes of these two discourses: overarching goal, scale, process, humanlnature metabolism, mode of regulation, and social agency. Such a listing is necessarily abbreviated, and not intended to minimize the complex interrelationship between each variable. The goal is to evaluate two very different solution sets to the challenge of long-run human survival on the planet, and reveal counter-hegemonic breaks with the hegemonic metadiscourse of liberal capitalist productivism.15 </p><p>This juxtaposition reveals that commons struggles don't reject the ideal of sustainability, but push for a deeper meaning by challenging a paradigm of relentless commodification and eco-social enclosure, and proposing an alternative set of values and practices for ecocentric thought and action. A turn to the commons cannot suddenly or magically ameliorate ecological exhaustion, but it can suggest ways of </p><p>141eslie Sklair, The Transnational Capitalist Class (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001), p. 215; Timothy Luke, Ecocritique: Contesting the Politics of Nature, Economy, and Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), p. 27; Dryzek, op. cit., pp. 167-68. 1 5 ~ h e idea of a modern "metadiscourse" is used to distinguish an overarching spirit of modernity. Jean-Frangois Lyotard. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984). Similar notions have been used by other academic traditions to describe an overarching, and unquestioned logic justifying economic expansionism. The French regulation school, for example, speaks of a mode of capital regulation, understood as a "body of interiorized rules and social processes" which takes the form of "norms, habits, laws, regulating networks." Alain Lipietz, "New Tendencies in the International Division of Labour: Regimes of Accumulation and Modes of Regulation," in A. Scott and M. Stroper, eds., Production, Work, Territory (London: Allen and Unwin, 1986), p. 19. </p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Dal</p><p>hous</p><p>ie U</p><p>nive</p><p>rsity</p><p>] at</p><p> 13:</p><p>54 0</p><p>9 O</p><p>ctob</p><p>er 2</p><p>014 </p></li><li><p>life regulated by participatory democratic communities, instead of corporate marketeering or top-down managerialism. As such, the commons discourse represents a direction for human-nature interactions that is more egalitarian, democratic, and oriented towards ecological survival across generations. </p><p>This comparative enterprise is not meant to imply that the matter is as simple as replacing one discourse with another. Just as the sustainable development discourse was appropriated by business interests, the commons discourse can be, and is now used to rationalize the socialization of capitalist externalities. Neither modernity nor capitalism has ever succeeded at being a monolithic tale of uniform exploitation. From the solitary musings of Thoreau, to the preservationism of John Muir, to recent strands of ecofeminism, p...</p></li></ul>