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Common Democracy

Political Representation beyond Representative Democracy

Alexandros Kioupkiolis

At a time when representative democracies are in deep crisis, this article examines the debate over representation as it appears in contemporary Marxist and poststructuralist political thought. The article discusses, more specifically, Ernesto Laclau’s defense of political representation and pits this against Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s vision of an “absolute democracy” beyond representation, in order to chart a path between and beyond both contrasting positions. The crux of the argument is that in participatory democracies political governance becomes a common affair: a public good accessible to all members of a community on the basis of equality. Such a democratic regime contrasts with both representative democracies, where the assembled demos is excluded from any effective participation in the everyday exercise of major political power, as well as direct democracy, where the collective sovereign would be fully present to itself, total and undivided. Common political representation is open to all, inclusive, participatory, and accountable.

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The commons, property, and ownership

Suggestions for further discussion

Katharina Bodirsky

In response to the theme section on commoning in the December 2017 issue of Focaal, this article raises further questions for discussion and proposes an analytics of the commons that grasps it through the lens of property regimes. The key question concerns how we might best envision the relation of the commons/ commoning to the state, capitalism, and commonality in a way that does justice to both a broadly Leftist politics of the commons and an analysis of really existing commons that might deviate from this ideal. The conceptual lens of property regimes proposed here focuses empirical attention on relations of production and the organization of membership and ownership in the commons without including a particular politics into the definition as such.

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Common Humanity and Shared Destinies

Looking at the Disability Arts Movement from an Anthropological Perspective

Andrea Stöckl

This article will bring together two strands of anthropological theories on art and artefacts, the disability arts movement and the phenomenological approach to the study of material things. All three of these different perspectives have one thing in common: they seek to understand entities – be they human or nonhuman – as defined by their agency and their intentionality. Looking at the disability arts movement, I will examine how the anthropology of art and agency, following Alfred Gell's theorem, is indeed the 'mobilisation of aesthetic principles in the course of social interaction', as Gell argued in Art and Agency. Art, thus, should be studied as a space in which agency, intention, causation, result and transformation are enacted and imagined. This has a striking resonance with debates within the disability arts movement, which suggests an affirmative model of disability and impairment, and in which art is seen as a tool to affirm, celebrate and transform rather than a way of expressing pain and sorrow. I will use case studies of Tanya Raabe-Webber's work and of artistic representations of the wheelchair in order to further explore these striking similarities and their potential to redefine the role of art in imagining the relationship between technology and personhood. I will finish by looking at Martin Heidegger's conceptualisation of the intentionality of things, as opposed to objects, and will apply this to some artwork rooted in the disability arts movement.

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Incipient “commoning” in defense of the public?

Competing varieties of fiscal citizenship in tax- and spending-related direct democracy

Sandra Morgen and Jennifer Erickson

This article examines the development of competing forms of fiscal citizenship in Oregon tax-related ballot initiative campaigns between 1970 and 2010. Antitax advocates constructed a “taxpayer identity politics” that positioned a privatized “taxpayer” against representatives of the state, recipients of public services, and public sector unions. In response, a progressive coalition produced an alternative citizen—the “Oregonian,” a socially responsible taxpayer/citizen who supports and defends public services and values a “common good.” “Incipient commoning” emerges as support for “the common good” through discourse about community and belonging that is more and other than, though in relation to, the state. Attention to how “publics” conceive of themselves suggests that concepts like the “the commons” already circulate in the imaginaries and vocabularies of advocates resisting neoliberal policies.

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A Divided City in a Common Market

EU Citizenship and Everyday Instrumentalities on the Polish-German Border

Andrew D. Asher

Based on an ethnographic case study in the border cities of Frankfurt (Oder), Germany and Słubice, Poland, this article explores the construction and maintenance of ethnic difference within the transnational economic and social spaces created by the European Union's common market. Through an examination of three domains of cross-border citizenship practice - shopping and consumption, housing and work - this article argues that even as the European Union deploys policies aimed at creating de-territorialised and supranational forms of identity and citizenship, economic asymmetries and hierarchies of value embedded within these policies grant rights differentially in ways that continue to be linked to ethnicity and nationality.

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The Riddle of a Common History

The United States in Mexican Textbook Controversies

Mauricio Tenorio-Trillo

By identifying two general issues in recent history textbook controversies worldwide (oblivion and inclusion), this article examines understandings of the United States in Mexico's history textbooks (especially those of 1992) as a means to test the limits of historical imagining between U. S. and Mexican historiographies. Drawing lessons from recent European and Indian historiographical debates, the article argues that many of the historical clashes between the nationalist historiographies of Mexico and the United States could be taught as series of unsolved enigmas, ironies, and contradictions in the midst of a central enigma: the persistence of two nationalist historiographies incapable of contemplating their common ground. The article maintains that lo mexicano has been a constant part of the past and present of the US, and lo gringo an intrinsic component of Mexico's history. The di erences in their historical tracks have been made into monumental ontological oppositions, which are in fact two tracks—often overlapping—of the same and shared con ictual and complex experience.

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Commoning in New York City, Barcelona, and Paris

Notes and observations from the field

Ida Susser

Based on fieldwork in New York City, Barcelona, and Paris, this article explores recent Occupy events and how these represent a claim for an urban commons, and the building of a new political consciousness. The article analyzes commoning in the three cities as a form of popular education that transforms space, time, and language. The reemergence of commoning is seen as a response to neoliberal policies, the creation of a temporary and insecure workforce (or precariat), and the need to develop different approaches to power and transformation. Although clearly reflective of historical experiences, commoning can be seen as a newly significant form of protest that brings together and creates a shared culture among fragmented progressive groups often divided by issues of identity and topic.

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The Common Good and a Teleological Conception of Rights

An Article on the African Philosophy of Rights

Sabelo Ndwandwe

A common communitarian criticism of rights discourse picks at the individualistic picture of rights which is said to presuppose a society where persons are conscious of their separateness. In contrast, an African communitarian society is said to put less emphasis on individual interests; it encourages harmony, not divergence of interests, competition, and conflict. Thus, preoccupation with rights would be incompatible with and even hostile to the possibility of community. This article argues the opposite; it submits that rights and community are mutually constitutive. To this end, I explore T. H. Green’s social recognition thesis which reconceptualises rights and obligations in a teleological framework. When conceived in this fashion, rights transcend antithetical relations between individuals and society as typified by classical natural rights thinkers. I argue that, considering a normative significance of the common good, a compelling account of rights in African philosophy is better conceived in a teleological framework.

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John Pickles

Anyone who studies post-socialist political economy probably has to begin a discussion of ‘the commons’ and common property resources by explaining the relationship between common property and collectivism, and the enormous impact that liberal and neo-liberal thought and institutions have had on the social economies of the Eastern European commons. In this article, I want to do this in three ways. First, I argue that contemporary accounts of socialist and post-socialist common property resources and practices have been shaped by the commitments of neo-liberalism and have had the very particular effect (and perhaps intent) of discrediting certain kinds of collective action and common property institutions. Second, I illustrate the ways in which a new definition of the commons has emerged in Europe—one that struggles to harmonize juridical and political aspirations for a peaceful and inclusive European Union with a common economic project and space of harmonized markets and trade policy. These twinned projects of this new ‘common economic union’ and their own versions of what constitutes a public, a commons, as well as their universal value, are increasingly conflated with post-colonial notions of a return to Europe and with deeply historical and racialized views of identity and commonality. The building of markets through the institutions and projects of structural adjustment and shock therapy has resulted in a thoroughgoing integration of the economies of the region with those of the broader international market and a fundamental recomposition of class forces in the region.

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Helle Bundgaard

This article discusses the approach to the management of change taken by a Danish university when introducing a university-wide market for education and it explores the different positions taken by some of the central stakeholders in one of the faculties involved. I argue that neither the inadequacies of a popular management model nor insufficient communication fully explain the problems with the change project. Based on strategy papers, memorandums and detailed observations of meetings, I discuss the introduction of the education market and analyse the reception given by directors of studies to a specific social technology, a common year and timetable structure. I offer an explanation of their reactions that draws on an anthropological approach to organisations. I call for university leaders to take what I call an 'improvisational' approach to leadership, which takes account of local ways of interpreting the meaning and significance of large-scale changes and works through professional motivation.