Commoning or Commoneering. WTF?

our-open-design-commons-copy1David Bollier suggests to „nip in the bud“ (for non native-speakers: stopping something in its early stages like a plant whose bud is starting to blossom) a term that popped up at the Economics and the Commons Conference: COMMONEERING. When, during our evaluation session on May 25th, I asked for the difference between commoneering and commoning, we all of a sudden found ourselves involved in a pretty wonderfull discussion.

Nontheless, Hervé le Crosnier called our discussion „rather surrealistic“ (others even dubbed it „silly“) and in a blogpost Stefan Meretz criticizes the term „commoneering“ as it were a sheer marketing strategy for the commons. And it sounded a tiny little bit  as if this was, because he was not convinced by the talk of who introduced the term: Jem Bendell’s in his keynote „Commoneering Money, Markets and Value„.

I confess: I slightly disagree with my fellow commoners :-). And this is not because I want to defend the term, I just want to pledge for openness in further exploring and experimenting with it. After all, when talking about the commons we have to deal with plenty of lexical voids. There are so many things and processes our marketized language does not allow to properly frame and express. Let’s be open to play with language, as Johannes Heimrath always does.

So; here are my two cents on the issue:

First of all, let me reproduce our debate from May 25 in Berlin:

Ludwig and David started reminding us, that Bendell used the term „commonEER“ for people who develop tools for commoners and commoning, as in „social system engineer“, and he seemed to have brought it up in the context of „pioneering“ as welll. So, it is clearly not about „consciously doing commoning“ (as I supposed at the beginning).

Hannes‘ sense of it was: „you cannot do commoneering in a designing sense without doing commoning“ and Soma dared a first definition (IMHO a pretty suitable one):

„commoneering is a cognitive, conscious, cultural process to create tools“

I’d add:

„and infrastructures!“

While some considered – as our above mentionned colleagues – that there is „no added value“ in the term (Miguel), others (like me) were trying to make sense out of it, basically because I think, that a new word in a political context does not only pop up „just for fun“. There is always some meaning behind, something the term itself invites us to take into account. Language (and „écriture“), as Jacques Derrida reminds us, create reality. They are performative. They do not only mirror and represent our thinking, but can undermine and reshape it. Language and écriture have their own materiality (I draw upon Derrida’s ideas here). They helps us to „deconstruct“ our thinking. They are subversive. And that is why I did not find this debate surrealistic at all.

Consider the move from Commons Based Peer Production to Commons Creating Peer Production to Commons Creating Peer Economy to Commons Creating Peer Ecology (Andreas Weber came up with at the end of the Conference). Gosh, these are no minor twists at all, there is plenty of stuff to think about behind (and I can testify that the switch from Commons Creating Peer Production to Commons Creating Economy was by pure chance).

I somehow understand the idea of wanting to avoid a split between „commoning“ and „commoneering“ („There is no commons‘ job“, said Stefan.) I also understand the fear of creating a new „brand“ that would converte the „commoner“ into the minor, average somebody, even though this obviously misses the point, as Brian pointed out:

„People have been doing commons for centuries! It’s the ordernary way of being human, and it is a struggle for recovering this in the north.“

But still, I am more inclined to think, that there is also a notion of „PEER“ in commonEER, as Stefan T said. A notion that keeps us alert, that we need to connect and have huge, distributed networks (for if the State doesn’t help us) so that we really can re-create as much as possible out of the commons without having to rely on the market. Who does help us connecting? Who builds and maintains the connecting infrastructures? Why shouldn’t we call what they do „commoneering“?

Dennis was certainly right:

„So many new words are around – like re-prosumption-, we need a dictionary of the commons.“

We can start with this one and this one.

Through Hervé’s reference to Ludwig Wittgenstein we were finally recalled, that ‚you don’t define words but use them and time will tell which words survive‘. Social usage will define and redefine words (as is the case of bien commun and/or commun, Gemeingüter and/or Commons) At some point google will show: (test as of May 25th, 2013, at the hour of our discussion, just for the record):

  • commoner: 4.790.000
  • commoneer: 14.900 (hey, that’s quite a bit)
  • commonable: 346.00
  • commoning: 85.900
  • commoneering: 8 🙂

The conclusion we could all agree too: Social practice will determine whether it will be used or not, and if it will be really used to denominate „a separate class of experts“, separated from „commoners“.
Meanwhile: let’s deal with those „lexical voids“ in a playful way.

2 Gedanken zu „Commoning or Commoneering. WTF?

  1. Interesting discussion! My suggestion of a better term for speaking about those that actively seek to build the commons is something I didnt explore in detail, as my speech focused on monetary systems.

    But Im still left wondering about terminology, as I cant use commoner. See Oxford Dictionary for the meaning of commoner.

    Might it be useful for enabling skills development to recognise that some people are applying their working lives to protecting or creating commons? Could that be helped with a name?

    Would such recognition/name necessarily have to cast them as an „elite“ compared to others that protect or co-create commons with less of a professional or vocational focus?

    Does a commons approach to life exclude notions of either expertise, professional specialism or leadership?

    Do we need more of these to protect and build the commons, as well as (not instead of) broader participation?

    Given the problems with the term „commoner“ what other term can we use?

    My main insight from working on NGO campaigns as well as brands and marketing is that the key is to focus on what might work for communicating to a target audience, rather than what works for communicating amongst a smaller group of peers or insiders. So this depends on the target audience… and I think we need a far wider participation of both activist and entrepreneurial types in the conversation about the commons.

    Thx for the invitation.

  2. Hi Jem, we can reclaim words – like commoner. I like it and support Brian’s argument on this. (see above)

    „Would such recognition/name necessarily have to cast them as an ‚elite‘ compared to others that protect or co-create commons with less of a professional or vocational focus?““

    I don’t think so.

    „Does a commons approach to life exclude notions of either expertise, professional specialism or leadership?“
    Again, I don’t think so. And that is why I think we should experiment with the term.
    Thanks for igniting this (even if it was not your primary goal :-))

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