The Commons and a New Global Governance
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The Commons and a New Global Governance

Edited by Samuel Cogolati and Jan Wouters

Given the new-found importance of the commons in current political discourse, it has become increasingly necessary to explore the democratic, institutional, and legal implications of the commons for global governance today. This book analyses and explores the ground-breaking model of the commons and its relation to these debates.
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Chapter 5: Forget Ostrom: from the development commons to the common as social sovereignty

Pierre Sauvêtre


The aim of this chapter is to lay the groundwork for this critique by establishing a distinction between Ostrom’s commons and the common. Such divergence can be drawn from a comparison between distinctive ‘pro common(s) (goods) politics’, such as the Ostromian developmentalist policy of the commons, on the one hand, and the Water War in Bolivia, the Italian beni comuni movement, or the Catalonian politica del comú, on the other. By ‘pro common(s) (goods) politics’, this chapter refers to practical and theoretical ensembles produced by the mutual constitution between theoretical research on common(s) (goods) and the discursive or non-discursive practices of actors (social movements, political organizations, institutional actors) who claim to follow these principles, and that have taken the form of organized movements aiming at the implementation of the common(s) (goods). At first glance, these ensembles share similar characteristics that warrant comparison: a lexicon of the common (common goods, commons or the common), the preference for a third way distinct from the market and the state, as well as self-governing and self-organizing practices. Moreover, what justifies the interest in these cases is that, as organized movements, they have reached a critical threshold, which makes them something more than a mere experiment restricted to a group of insiders. The two main parts of this chapter compare the Ostromian developmentalist policy of the commons with the mobilization for lo común (the common) in the context of the Water War in Bolivia. This chapter contends that, despite a seemingly shared historical background, the studies stemming since the 1980s from Ostrom’s work on the commons and their inscription within international development policies, have no connection whatsoever with the movements for the common that appear in the 2000s in the context of the wave of state neoliberalization. On the one hand, historical and sociological analysis shows that the commons refer to an intervention aimed at structuring the community-based management of resources in the Global South, and are intended as a shift away from public intervention by the state and towards a deepening of the market economy. On the other hand, such analysis also indicates that the common constitutes a social fact, an original practice developed by certain social groups, in states that favoured market players and ceased serving the public interest, based upon the exercise of a ‘social sovereignty’ within a non-state public space.

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