The Commons: Opening and Enclosing Non-commodified Space

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James Arvanitakis


This paper begins with a simple question—‘how can you steal something that no one owns’? Though a simple question, the answer is complicated, for the stealing of ‘things’ owned by no one explains an important aspect of capitalism’s insatiable appetite. Historically the conditions for industrialisation and market economies were created by capital through the colonisation of common lands and common modes of production—things that are shared but not owned. And this is an appetite that shows no sign of abating. This paper looks at the concept of the commons as aspects of our lives that no one owns but that everyone enjoys. Today the commons are constantly under siege. However, this claim does not only refer to ‘physical’ commons; here, I extend the concept of non-commodified ‘spaces’ into the cultural sphere.
By outlining how capital continually works to enclose the commons—both physical and cultural—this paper aims to present a key contest occurring between neoliberalism and today’s social justice movements. This conflict is based on the manufacturing of scarcity through enclosure versus the concept of abundance through sharing and cooperation. The purpose, then, is to identify the source of this enclosure, and why it continues, as well as describe potential paths to challenge it.

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Special Issue Articles (Peer Reviewed)