IATP Intern Jill Carlson and I are working on putting together ideas around localization, governance, agroecology, autonomy, deep/ deliberative/ participatory/ cognitive democracy and agroecology (which I sometimes airily call our “Agrodemocracy” project, though I am loathe to invent new terms when so many good ones abound). One of the things I see in the world around me are things anticipated by late Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom (among others, of course). Like a number of fundamental works I’ve spent quality time with, her Governing the Commons has so very many insights to draw on, most of which are forgotten, glossed over or (as I myself was guilty of in grad school) not truly and deeply read even by those reading (or assigned to read) it.
I can’t promise this will actually be an ongoing series, but one of the things I’ve wanted to do is Blog Governing the Commons and even just note, or reproduce, some of the items that catch my eye. Many of them could be (and/or have been) entire dissertations unto themselves. Marking them here, I hope to spur conversation and closer consideration, so commentary from me on any given post may be kept to a minimum, simply for time’s sake, but marking out this space and idea for return and reflection.
One last brief point: many point to Ostrom’s own admonitions that her findings come from very specific (though frequent) situations of common pool resources, which have given properties that doesn’t apply by any means to all public goods (i.e., those things that provide benefits for many but where it is hard or impossible to charge users individually and exclude those who don’t pay). That said, what I think some mistake this for is the idea that her findings then don’t apply outside of the types of systems she studied. This, at the least, has not been proven — it is better to say, the rigorous findings of her work combining theory, experiments, and systematic study and observation of real world examples are solidly established for common pool resources; they may apply more generally but how far and when they do is not well-studied. In other words, rather than saying that the tools people have used to govern resource use in her examples can’t be used for other systems, we should be asking how and when we can use the sets of tools (or “operating principles”) that she and her collaborators, rivals, and successors have found in other systems.
The Wright Brothers’ flight in North Carolina on Thursday, December 17, 1903, did not mean that flight was only possible on Thursdays, during the winter, in the morning, in North Carolina, when going into a freezing headwind. Their work — and others’ — set the path for the diversity of flying we see is possible today. The mechanics and applications had to be worked out, tested, re-jiggered, re-invented, re-pioneered by them and by others, but we know how to make a plane (and other contraptions) go in a wide variety of circumstances now. If that is true of “technological technology”, why can’t it be true of “social technology”? Why can’t the innovations made by people around the world for 100s and 1000s of years, as elucidated and analyzed by Ostrom and by others, be worked out, re-jiggered, re-invented, re-pioneered, and re-adjusted for the wider diversity of situations where they might be of use?
This informal blog series may just draw attention to some interesting ideas here and there, but it is in service to answering this question — and going beyond it, to encouraging and supporting the many existing pioneers living these ideas, and finding ways to support, encourage, and pioneer more ways to re-invent, establish, and spread the “next gen” of “democratic technologies”, and to see how they fit and may reinforce agroecology, food sovereignty, equity, and sustainability.