After we launched our online platform at A Lab two months ago, we took some time to think about our next steps and clarify our focus. And to teach, write articles, apply for new positions, go on holiday, finish theses etc. etc. And we’ll continue to do this during the summer break, with the commons in the back of our head, of course.
For now, we’ve taken the insights and critical remarks that came up during the launch to specify our focus. Here’s a summary (with many thanks to all participants for helping and challenging us):
Our take on the commons
We study urban culture, and we try to find out how the notion of the commons can help us to understand various kinds of social organisation in cultural and creative industries.
Others have written extensively on definitions (see for instance the ‘new to the commons’ posts by David Bollier), but here are some key elements.
Commons refer to a resources that are shared by a group of people. Often, the commons comprise those resources and assets without clear property rights. In this sense it is close to ‘common-pool resources‘.
Commons are about social relations. As pointed out by Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom, sets of rules are needed in order to exploit resources collectively. These are not universal or static, and they are defined and negotiated within social relationships. This also means there is not a single recipe for a commons, but that there are what Ostrom called ‘design principles’.
Commons may also be understood as an activity, historian Peter Linebaugh has argued. It’s more than an idea or a material resource, it’s about engaging with resources through labour, and about ‘making common’.
Commons have become a umbrella concept for many different kinds of activities and organisations. And that’s way historian Tine De Moor prefers to talk about institutions for collective action instead, and these may include commons.
Commons are also seen as a social movement countervailing market and government action, or even as a (sometimes activist) mindset with concern for social inclusion, equal access to resources, and the environment.
Where to start?
As complex as it all is, for now we start with the first element. We’re busy working on ways in which we can identify common-pool resources in cultural and creative industries.
Empirical studies have identified a variety of common pool resources in cities: specialized skilled labour and related knowledge, dedicated institutions and third spaces, venues and festivals where people can meet and exchange ideas, but also more generic and abstract resources such as trust and quality of place. While cities cannot function properly without these common pool resources, they tend to be undersupplied through market allocation. How, then, are these resources created and maintained in urban contexts? Which forms of orgainsation can be identified and what makes them effective?
To address these questions, we focus on how these common pool resources function in relation to one of the mainstays of contemporary urban economies, namely the cultural and creative industries: those economic activities in which the symbolic or aesthetic qualities of the goods and services is the main selling point.
By looking at a wide array of concrete examples of how all kinds of cultural activities are boosted, buttressed, and enabled by common pool resources we will be able to present a rich, empirically informed panorama of forms of self-organisation, commoning, and collective action.
What does this mean?
We report on our research approach and findings on this website.
We reflect on cultural expressions that have to do with our theme, such as movies or artworks.
We invite colleagues to share ideas on this website, and we reflect on their work.
We irregularly organise public and expert meetings.
We try to motivate students to further explore this topic in their own research.