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.
Suggestions for further discussion
The Challenge for Europe
Máiréad Nic Craith
Heritage has traditionally been associated with material objects, but recent conventions have emphasized the significance of intangible culture heritage. This article advocates a holistic approach towards the concept and considers key challenges for Europe's heritage at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Reflecting on the notion of 'European', it considers the question of how one defines European heritage and which European heritage is to be protected. It explores links between national and European conceptions of identity and heritage and queries issues of ownership, language and representation. A number of ethical issues are raised - such as the role of women in the transmission of heritage and the implications of information technology for copywriting traditional practices. The author also asks how one ensures that the process of globalisation facilitates rather than eliminates local cultural heritages? How does one enhance the local so that it becomes glocal and not obsolete?
Adrian Albano, Els van Dongen and Shinya Takeda
The Philippines is one of the many countries that currently acknowledge the presence of indigenous peoples (IPs) within their territories. This acknowledgment often comes with a formal recognition of the rights of IPs, including the right to practice their customary laws. Because of the equal existence of overarching state laws, this formally leads to a situation of legal pluralism for IPs. For many forest conservation advocates, legal pluralism for IPs, particularly with regard to land ownership and forest management, is expected to help conserve forests. This expectation, however, is founded on the erroneous assumption that the traditional land use of IPs is nondestructive and that traditional land ownership is communal. Using a relatively long historical perspective, this article demonstrates that these assumptions do not apply to the Kalanguya of Tinoc, the Philippines. In contrast to the notion of IPs being market-averse, this article further demonstrates that many Kalanguya have been and remain “capitalists”. The article favors the inclusion of a market-based forest conservation policy, which is arguably consistent with the reality of value pluralism.
Revising Locke's Account of Original Appropriation through Cultivation
S. Stewart Braun
As part of his account of original appropriation, John Locke famously argued that uncultivated land was open to acquisition. Historically, this account has played a large role in justifying the seizure of indigenous land. In this article, I contend that despite the past acts of dispossession Locke's account seemingly justified, a complete rejection of Locke's idea of original appropriation would be a mistake since a generalised account can be constructed that does not subvert indigenous ownership. I also contend that the revised account can be used to critique the current legal and political situation regarding native title in Australia.
Deema Kaneff and Alexander D. King
'Culture' has become a powerful political symbol and economic resource in the information age, where the development of the service economy (including tourism) provides new opportunities to marginal groups and new challenges to dominant ones. In this introduction the authors explore a number of themes that are developed further in the following articles: the way in which 'culture' is produced, possessed and often transformed into a commodity for the market; the role of such reified culture in relations of power and inequality; the ownership of culture as a tool of identity and nation building. While to date such an interest has been largely limited to indigenous populations, here the discussion is taken a step further by focusing on the relevancy of owning culture in the Eurasian context. This allows us to expand our understanding of cultural property: as a tool available to any group seeking confirmation of an identity perceived to be under threat or as an instrument in the negotiation of a group's position vis-à-vis wider power structures.
Why Californians Shifted from Trains to Autos (and Not Buses), 1910-1941
This essay examines the transition from a rail-based intercity transportation system in California in 1910 to a road/private auto-based system thirty years later, with hypotheses that the transition could be explained by either corporate and state decisions for supplying infrastructure or by public demand. The essay examines trends of automobile ownership, road investment, bus organization and service provision, intercity passenger rail service provision, and intercity rail revenues, both within California and to and from California in each of the three decades. It concludes that public preference for private automobility explains most of the transition but that unserved demand remained for fast passenger train service between the state's large metropolitan areas. Failure to serve that demand derived from California's legacy of popular disdain for the private railroad industry.
Reflections on Strathern's 'Eating (and Feeding)'
Carlos Fausto and Luiz Costa
Drawing on Marilyn Strathern's comparative insights on eating and feeding, we explore the difference between giving food and eating together in Amazonia. These two elementary modes of alimentary life have often been conflated in the Amazonian literature. We distinguish between them by asking what these acts produce, what agentive capacities and perspectives they evince, and what kind of relationships they configure.
Fieldwork, Biography, and Authorship in Southwest China and Beyond
This article is an exploration into how a distinct fascination with the study of religion traverses the biographies of researchers who, through fieldwork, episodically enter into the life-worlds of the peoples they study. In it, I offer up ethnographic and autoethnographic reflections on the experiential crossroads and personal biographies that are perhaps as constitutive of religion as they are of the persons who study it. Through a discussion of interconnected events that arose during and outside of my anthropological fieldwork among the Nuosu, a Tibeto-Burman group of Southwest China, I highlight how Nuosu claims to authoring my biography have brought their animistic religion and culture, as well as its international import, further into focus for myself, local scholars, and rural Nuosu persons. My argument pivots around the idea that fieldwork-based researchers and their interlocutors often appropriate each other’s biographies in rather cosmic ways, thus revealing the historically, socially, and personally contingent qualities that are involved in studies of religion.
Challenging Traditions among Rural Yezidis in Post-Soviet Armenia
Hamlet Melkumyan and Roman Hovsepyan
The Yezidis of Armenia, traditionally considered transhumant pastoralists, have been changing their economic habits over the past century. Nowadays, they are more engaged in agriculture than they were a century ago. The social and cultural backgrounds of these transformations are discussed, showing the involvement of the treatment of the Armenians and the adaptive character of the Yezidis’ economy. Presently, the Yezidis practise animal breeding and plant cultivation in parallel, using the human resources available in their family. The ongoing transformations in the economy and their engagement in agriculture are challenging the conservative lifestyle of the Yezidi community. Thus, the people who have shifted to the agrarian economy are seen as outsiders in the traditional framework and are perceived to be of low prestige.
In the past, land agitations have had a clear spiritual and theological dimension. The morality of ownership over land itself is often questioned. Many see land as a community resource, and community ownership is an emergent 'model' of land tenure, both in word and in practice. This project on the role of spirituality and theology in Scotland's modern land reform is linked to research into the spirituality of community regeneration, supported by WWF International in Geneva. The findings show that for contemporary Scottish land reformers spiritual and theological dimensions are very important.