• May 18, 2013 at 2:17 pm

    What follows is my notes for a concept draft of a collaborative and generative action research. I didn’t have time to polish these notes into a coherent concept paper, and decided to turn this constraint into an opportunity to initiate a research collaboration by all those who feel called to participate in and shape it. 

    It is a shared, Open Notebook  experiment where participants share their reading notes and thoughts, as they emerge. To support the conditions for such emergence, I provide a container that consists of 5 elements:

    1. Variations for a working title of the research
    2. A temporary outline
    3. Some seed questions to frame the research
    4. The initial set of my reading notes and reflections on the subject
    5. A list of further resources that I suggest reviewing together

    1. Possible titles

    If we considered the suggested line of research itself, as a commons, then what title would you suggest to use for labeling it and why? Here are some variations I’ve been playing with it:

    • Is Labour Commonable? (See an explanation of the “commonable” meme’s origin in David Bollier’s blog.)
    • The commons-centered enterprise and the transition to a commons-based society
    • Governing work as commons

    I realize that these different titles have different implications for the scope and direction of the research that I’m proposing. Leaving the options open is also expressing my intention to let those dimensions of the research to be defined by those who want to co-design and common about it.

    2. Temporary outline

    • Labour power as a commons
    • From creative commons to the commons of generalized human creativity
    • Why we need to re-think labor power as commons
    • Implications of “labor as commons” for governing work as commons
    • The frontline of the struggles between capital and commons in the enterprise

     

    3.  Some seed questions to frame the research

    • What issues in the struggle for collective self-determination by the workers will be come visible if we apply the Ostromite perspective on institutional analysis to inform and guide process of transforming corporations into commons?
    • What would be theoretical and practical implications of using Elinor Ostrom’s commons design principles in the context of transforming corporations into commons?
    • Labour power is treated by the capitalist system of production, as a commodity. How can, an alternative commons-oriented conception of labour help us understand the conditions for the transition to a commons-based society?
    • In our search for transcending the system of private expopriation of labour as commons, his can we avoid the traps the co-optation of commons by the capital? That trap is a danger that that Massimo de Angelis called our attention to in his chapter in The Wealth of the Commons about Crises, Capital and Co-optation: Does Capital Need a Commons Fix? 
    • What are the most advanced (historical and contemporary) examples of workplace democracy in a context of capital, and what do they lack from a the perspective of the commons?
    • What else would you ask that would be essential to the content and process of this research?

     

    4. Reading notes and reflections so far

    <ul> Labour power as a commons</ul>
    ‘The commons are what is considered essential for life, understood not merely in the biological sense. They are the structures, which connect individuals to one another, tangible or intangible elements that we all have in common and which make us members of a society, not isolated entities in competition with each other. Elements that we maintain or reproduce together, according to rules established by the community…, which needs to be self-governed through forms of participative democracy.’ (Tommaso Fattori 2011)

    “The human capacity to create… is socially realised (whether or not this distributed potential is achieved depends on the nature of the social relations of production, communication and distribution) and socially benefited from (who in society benefits from the creativity of others again depends on the economic, political and social relations). From Labour as Commodity to Labour as a Common, by Hilary Wainwright, 

    “Commons Action for the United Nations encourages initiatives such as the creation of Social Charters to affirm the sovereignty of human beings over their means of sustenance and well-being arising through a customary or emerging identification with an ecology, a cultural resource area, a social need, or a form  of collective labour.” — Measures to Finance the Shift to a Commons-Based Economy prepared in 2012 by Commons Action for the United Nation

    “At first sight, labour, understood in terms of the application of the human capacity to create, would seem profoundly individual and therefore inimical to organisation as a commons. On further reflection, though, human creativity, with its individual and social dimensions inextricably intertwined, is a distinctive commons that is key to the possibility of a commons-based political economy.”From Labour as Commodity to Labour as a Common, by Hilary Wainwright

    <ul> From creative commons to the commons of generalized human creativity </ul>

    Perhaps we could draw on Marx’s contrast between the bee and the architect indirectly to reinforce the point about human creativity as a particular kind of commons. If we were like bees, then we and our product might be part of the natural commons – with beekeepers as the custodians, cultivators of the commons. But as the equivalent of architects, with the capacity to imagine and to create according to our imagination, we embody a different kind of commons: the commons of creativity… Thinking of creativity as a commons leads to asking how we could envisage economic arrangements that build self-development, education and regeneration into daily life across what is now divided into work, consumption and personal life. From Labour as Commodity to Labour as a Common, by Hilary Wainwright

    “The creative commons licence is a good illustration of how it is possible to recognise and value the dimension of individual creativity (and with it a certain sense of ownership) and at the same time protect both the individual and the wider community against the worst consequences of taking a creation out of the commons and into the commodity market.” From Labour as Commodity to Labour as a Common, by Hilary Wainwright

    <ul>Why we need to re-think labor power as commons </ul>

    “Another implication for our own organisations, political and economic, is the importance of building into them the nurturing and development of this commons. We need to do this in both a prefigurative sense and as an immediate means of strengthening their transformative capacity. From Labour as Commodity to Labour as a Common, by Hilary Wainwright

    “Understanding labour and the potential of human creativity as a commons changes our view of employment. We can see this already in practice in parts of the solidarity economy where workers are never seen as ‘redundant’ and the aim is always redeployment and retraining. We also see how the scandalous waste of human creativity now evident in capitalist economies across the world has been a driving motive in the explosion of resistance from 2011 onwards, led often by the young unemployed.” From Labour as Commodity to Labour as a Common, by Hilary Wainwright

    <ul> Implications of labor as commons for governing work as commons</ul>

    “Democratic freedoms imply personal investments and responsibilities, and commons are vehicles for negotiating these responsibilities and corresponding social relations and modes of production.” Crises, Capital and Co-optation: Does Capital Need a Commons Fix?, by Massimo de Angelis 

    “Commons operate within social spaces that are not occupied by capital, whether these spaces are outside or inside capital’s organizations. Thus we find commons … on the shop floor of factories and in the canteens of offices among co-workers supporting one another, sharing their lunch and developing forms of solidarity and mutual aid. Crises, Capital and Co-optation: Does Capital Need a Commons Fix?, by Massimo de Angelis 

    “Human creativity as a commons also points to the importance of thinking at many different levels of economic and social relations and of inter-connecting them. So it leads to asking what institutional conditions for nurturing and realising creativity might mean at a micro level for how enterprises or urban spaces, for example, are organised; what it might mean at a macro level in terms of, for example, a means of livelihood beyond or autonomous from waged labour (what some have called ‘a basic wage’)… From Labour as Commodity to Labour as a Common, by Hilary Wainwright

    “Here I can draw from my own experience of a solidarity economy media enterprise, Red Pepper magazine, an institution based on a multiplicity of interconnecting interests. Its organisational design has to recognise a diversity of sources of support, monetary and in kind, some from organisations, some from individuals, all of whom expect some accountability. It also has to recognise several sources of creativity, the importance of a collaborative editorial process and yet the dimension of individual decision-making at different levels of the project, and at the same time meet the need for a relatively coherent identity. The notion of creativity as a commons seems key to developing a sufficiently flexible, transparent and constantly negotiable form of governance to deal with this complex combination of interests and imperatives.” From Labour as Commodity to Labour as a Common, by Hilary Wainwright

    <ul> The frontline of the struggles between capital and commons in the enterprise</ul>

    “These commons practices are possible to the degree they fill spaces not occupied by capitalist practices. For this reason, whenever the value-struggle between the two different ways of giving value to human activity reaches a structural limit – and there is no social space left for capital or the commons to develop without contesting the other – a frontline is established. Reaching this frontline is, from the situation of commons, the opportunity to mobilize against the capitalist logic, or to capitulate to it, depending upon a given situation of social powers. Crises, Capital and Co-optation: Does Capital Need a Commons Fix?, by Massimo de Angelis 

    Consider the implications of what Massimo de Angelis is saying above for the central hypothesis of the research that I’m calling for: in the transition to a commons-based society the variety of property right is becoming the domain of new struggles.

    “The fact that a frontline is or can be reached between commons and capital is because commons are a special type of social system. Within its realm, there lies the possibility that its labor activity, organization and patterns of social relations will not succumb to external pressures, but instead organize its own reproduction autonomously, following criteria of equity and justice as defined by the commoners themselves. This possibility depends on the contingent power relations within the commons; on the power of networked commons; and on forces outside the commons, such as capital. The commons therefore represents a field of possibilities in the struggle against capital. Crises, Capital and Co-optation: Does Capital Need a Commons Fix?, by Massimo de Angelis 

    “Of course, the capitalist organization of production seeks to limit these possibilities as much as possible, both at the level of a particular capitalist enterprise and at the level of their articulation through the market. For example, labor must succumb to the bottom line of capitalist development; it is profit–not the actual contributions of social labor to well-being or buen vivir–that defines whether the social labor mobilized in production and reproduction will be considered viable. This implies that struggles within capital for better conditions of work and life can bring about positive emancipatory change for some. 

    However, to the extent these struggles are channeled into profit-seeking capitalist development, these changes alsoimply higher costs of social reproduction for capital and therefore the need to shift these costs onto other nodes of social production and on the environment, if capital as a system is to survive.” Crises, Capital and Co-optation: Does Capital Need a Commons Fix?, by Massimo de Angelis 

    The questions of social power (understood as access to resources and the sense-orientation of the commoners vis-à-vis capital) can be pivotal. The social contingencies of this struggle means that questions of whether a commons can be co-opted cannot be addressed ideologically. The question of co-optation is a strategic field of possibilities, one that requires situated judgments based on context and scale.” Crises, Capital and Co-optation: Does Capital Need a Commons Fix?, by Massimo de Angelis 

    5. A list of further resources I suggest reviewing

    <ul> Bodies of research </ul>

    • Ethical Economy, by Adam Arvidsson and Nicolai Petersen
    • A Synthetic Overview of the Collaborative Economy, by Michel Bauwens, Nicolas Mendoza and Franco Iacomella, et al
    • The Failed Metaphysics Behind Private Property: Sharing our Commonhood, by James Quilligan
    • Theory of Value , by James Quilligan
    • Commons Law Project, by David Bollier
    • Germ Form theory, by Stefan Merentz

    <ul> Articles </ul>

    (to be continued)

  • May 23, 2013 at 12:00 am

    Charis Helsey asked in an email:

    I wonder if you might clarify a bit what you mean by “transformation of corporations into commons.” Are you talking about something like co-ops, as in market-viable cooperatively-managed organizations/businesses? Or something else?

    Thank you for asking… What I mean was an invitation to explore the possibility of creating commons-enabling social spaces and capabilities on the way to governing work as commons. That also assumes that the various domains of property rights will become the domain of potenittially intense conflict between commons and capital.

  • May 23, 2013 at 12:00 am

    Charis Helsey asked in an email:

    I wonder if you might clarify a bit what you mean by “transformation of corporations into commons.” Are you talking about something like co-ops, as in market-viable cooperatively-managed organizations/businesses? Or something else?

    Thank you for asking… What I mean was an invitation to explore the possibility of creating commons-enabling social spaces and capabilities on the way to governing work as commons. That also assumes that the various domains of property rights will become the domain of potenittially intense conflict between commons and capital.