Postcapitalist Practices of Commoning

Katherine Gibson

Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University 


A resurgence of interest in the commons is part of a movement to rethink how we live in relation to each other and environments in the Anthropocene. If, as economic anthropologist Stephen Gudeman puts it, "a community makes and shares a commons", we are currently witnessing both the destruction and formation of vastly different ways of constituting community, as some commons are enclosed or destroyed and others emerge and grow strong. The practice of commoning is the process, or more often the struggle, to make and share, to negotiate access, care for, responsibly manage and benefit from what sustains a community. As we face the challenge of acting "as a species" within the multi-species community of life on this planet, it is ever more evident that our lack of ability to "common" our atmosphere, that is, to care for and take responsibility for what presently exists as an open access, unmanaged commons, threatens our very existence. This paper argues for a reinvigorated language and politics of the commons, one that can bring to visibility practices of everyday commoning that operate at multiple scales from the planetary to that of locality or place. In the face of limitless promotion of the individual as the quintessential political subject of modernity, it is time rethink the possibilities for collective action, not only as a public with voice and vote, but as a community-without-essence in which making and sharing a commons is a living, participatory and never-settled commitment.