Infrastructures of Commoning


Infrastructures of Commoning

On May 13-15, 2024, the program Reclaiming Common Wealth will convene a three-day workshop on Infrastructures of Commoning at THE NEW INSTITUTE.


In this workshop we will try to imagine and develop new structures to facilitate, sustain and expand commoning. We understand infrastructure broadly as encompassing culture and practice, but want to pay particular attention to legal and institutional infrastructures, especially those that support land and housing commons. Invited participants will not only seek to clarify deep questions and formulate preliminary answers, but will also consider developing a collaborative network to address infrastructures of commoning on an ongoing basis. This is an increasingly urgent need in the face of a totalizing global market/state system that leaves little room for social and political autonomy and innovation, let alone relations of mutual care and solidarity, including with the more than human world. We want to explore how new kinds of infrastructures can make commoning and other system-changing behaviors easier and more normal, and in turn catalyze political and cultural change.

Key Issues

Among the central questions we will address are:

The liberal polity: To what extent is it possible and necessary to defend and expand core liberal principles while introducing bold new modifications to law, governance, and bureaucracy?

State power: Can public power be re-imagined on different terms to more actively support commoning and transnational collaborations (for concerns beyond global commerce)? How do state and democracy need be reimagined for an overt Commonsverse to develop?

Legal and constitutional hacks: Given the priority that law gives to capitalist market activity, and the capture of legislatures, what kinds of legal or constitutional hacks might be possible? How can law and practice from below be affirmatively recognized and supported in quasi-autonomous spaces? What role can international law and institutions play in supporting the commons?

From economic growth to a steady-state economy: What transitional strategies for decommodification, deassetization, relocalization, and bioregionalism could be pursued and by what legal means?

Strategies and theories of change: Since existing polities are unlikely to adopt needed changes in law, constitutional governance, and economic policy, how might existing movements worldwide be brought into closer alignment, coordination, and collaboration to build new infrastructures from below in support of the commons? What strategies are needed? What legal institutions or patterns can promote the expansion and interconnection of commons infrastructures?

Social practice, art, and culture: Any macro-transformation will require correlative shifts in worldviews, social practices, and culture, all of which need to be generally aligned with, if not supportive of, structural change. What activist strategies, political interventions, and forms of artistic and cultural expression might play useful roles? What experiments have been made in this regard and what lessons have been learned? How can intersectional solidarities be formed and become a self-reinforcing, ongoing experience? How can shifts in worldview – in ontology and epistemology – be advanced?

The workshop will focus on concrete institutional experiments, legal reforms, interventions and legal hacks. In exploring legal and institutional infrastructures for commoning, we will aim

  1. to further clarify the conceptual framework of commons law;
  2. to explore which legal concepts and classifications require modification (such as the public/private dichotomy, the concept of civil society, and public (or common) property);
  3. specify the implications of an "ontoshift" for modern, liberal law; and
  4. to show how patterns of commoning and patterns of interface (for state/commons relations) can help us rethink law and governance.

One need only consider the failure of the nation-state to deal with worsening climate and ecological collapse, social precarity and wealth inequality, distrust of democratic institutions, and deep tensions between large institutions and people's everyday lives.

While our primary concern is with the legal and institutional infrastructure of commoning, we also seek to explore the philosophical, political, and economic frameworks that can constrain or support social-ecological transformation through commoning. The liberal polity, for example, has limited scope for what it will allow and can comprehend, given its deep political alliance with capitalist interests and its commitment to modernist ontologies (the separation of humans from "nature," individuals from communities, rationality from subjectivity, selfishness from altruism, etc.).

Download the Program here.
Download the Participants List here.


This conference is a closed event. If you have any questions about this event, please contact Katja Schubel. Press inquiries can be made here.

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