The Global Idea of ‘The Commons’ 9781782384809

During the last three decades, corporations allied with scientists and universities, national and regional governments,

201 41 498KB

English Pages 142 [144] Year 2007

Report DMCA / Copyright


Table of contents :
Introduction: The Global Idea of ‘the Commons’
Collectivism, Universalism, and Struggles over Common Property Resources in the ‘New Europe’
‘The Commons’ in an Amazonian Context
The Genetic Commons: Resisting the Neo-liberal Enclosure of Life Stephen B. Scharper and Hilary Cunningham
Reflections on Intellectual Commons
Reinventing the Appalachian Commons
Conceiving the Health Commons: Operationalizing a ‘Right’ to Health
Notes on Contributors
Recommend Papers

The Global Idea of ‘The Commons’

  • 0 0 0
  • Like this paper and download? You can publish your own PDF file online for free in a few minutes! Sign Up
File loading please wait...
Citation preview

The Global Idea of ‘the Commons’

Critical Interventions: A Forum for Social Analysis General Editor: Bruce Kapferer Volume 1 THE WORLD TRADE CENTER AND GLOBAL CRISIS Critical Perspectives Edited by Bruce Kapferer Volume 2 GLOBALIZATION Critical Issues Edited by Allen Chun Volume 3 CORPORATE SCANDAL Global Corporatism against Society Edited by John Gledhill Volume 4 EXPERT KNOWLEDGE First World Peoples, Consultancy, and Anthropology Edited by Barry Morris and Rohan Bastin Volume 5 STATE, SOVEREIGNTY, WAR Civil Violence in Emerging Global Realities Edited by Bruce Kapferer Volume 6 THE RETREAT OF THE SOCIAL The Rise and Rise of Reductionism Edited by Bruce Kapferer Volume 7 OLIGARCHS AND OLIGOPOLIES New Formations of Global Power Edited by Bruce Kapferer Volume 8 NATIONALISM’S BLOODY TERRAIN Racism, Class Inequality, and the Politics of Recognition Edited by George Baca Volume 9 Identifying with freedom Indonesia after Suharto Edited by Tony Day Volume 10 THE GLOBAL IDEA OF ‘THE COMMONS’ Edited by Donald M. Nonini

The Global Idea of ‘the Commons’

7 Edited by Donald M. Nonini

Berghahn Books NEW YORK • OXFORD

Paperback edition published in 2007 by Berghahn Books © 2007, 2008 Berghahn Books Reprinted in 2008 All rights reserved. Except for the quotation of short passages for the purposes of criticism and review, no part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without written permission of the publisher.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data The global idea of ‘the commons’ / edited by Donald M. Nonini. p. cm. -- (Critical interventions: a forum for social analysis; v.10) Includes bibliographical references. ISBN 978-1-84545-485-2 (pbk. : alk. paper) 1. Commons. 2. Global commons. 3. Natural resources, Communal--Management. 4. Human ecology. 5. Environmental protection--International cooperation. I. Nonini, Donald Macon. HD1286.G56 2007 333.2--dc22 2007039219

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. ISBN 978-1-84545-485-2 (pbk.) Printed in the United States on acid-free paper.

00 Prelims.indd iv

8/27/08 12:30:21 PM



Introduction: The Global Idea of ‘the Commons’ Donald M. Nonini 1

Collectivism, Universalism, and Struggles over Common Property Resources in the ‘New Europe’ John Pickles 26

‘The Commons’ in an Amazonian Context Flora Lu 41

The Genetic Commons: Resisting the Neo-liberal Enclosure of Life Stephen B. Scharper and Hilary Cunningham 53

Reflections on Intellectual Commons Donald M. Nonini 66



Reinventing the Appalachian Commons Jefferson C. Boyer 89

Conceiving the Health Commons: Operationalizing a ‘Right’ to Health Sandy Smith-Nonini 115

Notes on Contributors 136

Introduction The Global Idea of ‘the Commons’

7 Donald M. Nonini

What is now at stake at this point in world history is control over ‘the commons’—the great variety of natural, physical, social, intellectual, and cultural resources that make human survival possible. By ‘the commons’ I mean those assemblages and ensembles of resources that human beings hold in common or in trust to use on behalf of themselves, other living human beings, and past and future generations of human beings, and which are essential to their biological, cultural, and social reproduction.1 Various kinds of commons have long existed as viable and durable arrangements for providing for the needs of human survival. This is best documented in the case of natural-resource commons by a very large literature in human ecology, political ecology, and policy studies, with hundreds of case studies of long-term stable arrangements for the use of common-pool resources, such as land, waterways and irrigation works, forest stands, fisheries, and game and wild food plant catchment areas (Bromley et al. 1992; Dietz, Ostrom, and Stern 2003; National Research Council 1986; Ostrom 1990). This research shows

Donald M. Nonini

that Hardin’s (1968) supposed situation of the “tragedy of the commons,” in which users compete with one another to appropriate commons resources, thus beggaring one another and so exhausting the commons, is far from inevitable.2 This is not to say that common-pool resources may not be depleted or that commons do not come to an end, but that the outcome depends on social and institutional arrangements. According to Ostrom et al. (1999: 278): “Although tragedies have undoubtedly occurred, it is also obvious that for thousands of years people have self-organized to manage common-pool resources, and users often do devise long-term, sustainable institutions for governing these resources.” It is particularly worth noting that when left to themselves, poor people have worked out commons arrangements for sharing scarce resources (e.g., coastal fisheries, highland irrigation water, unfarmed pasture lands) essential to their survival, often in marginal ecological zones and in some places for centuries (Cordell and McKean 1992; McKean 1992; Netting 1981; Trawick 2003). Commons do not come with guarantees, but some do endure over long periods of time without them. However, during the last three decades, corporations allied with Northern scientists and universities, national and regional governments, and international financial institutions (IFIs) have, through a variety of mechanisms associated with neo-liberal globalization (international treaties, adjudication tribunals, structural adjustment policies, etc.), acted to dispossess large proportions of the world’s population of their commons’ resources and enclose them for profit making. Those belonging to the corporate alliance (firms, governments, IFIs, illegal and illicit enterprises, criminal networks, Northern universities, professionals, technocrats) have acted as if the people who have long depended on these resources for survival are no longer entitled to use them—or even to exist, since


they have become increasingly superfluous to capitalist production. The issue for those being dispossessed is one of survival. The impoverished peoples living in the cities of the North, the slums of the urban South, and the rural regions of the South have not accepted their relegation to the status of living dead with equanimity or passivity. Instead, throughout the global South and in the cities of the global North, large numbers of people have formed movements to defend the commons in all their variety. They have come together in diverse settings in struggles against the corporate alliance’s control of the common-pool resources—natural, social, intellectual, and cultural—upon which their own social and personal survival depend. These conflicts are not only for control of common material resources, but also for control of the cultural meanings that define the commons and the processes that would preserve or destroy them. Why the commons has now become a social fact for so many people in so many diverse settings, and why it embodies so many cultural associations, requires further discussion below; however, the claim that it has become a salient social (and political) fact over the last three decades is not in dispute. The idea of the commons has emerged as a global idea, and commons have emerged as sites of conflict around the world. The essays in this forum seek to assay strategically the situations of selected commons in a variety of diagnostic sites where they exist, the ways in which they are being transformed by the incursions of capital and state, and the ways in which they are becoming the locus of struggle for those who depend on them to survive.

Donald M. Nonini

What Kinds of Commons Are There, and Why Does It Matter? It is theoretically valuable and politically crucial to distinguish the kinds of commons now under threat by the onslaught of the corporate alliance. All commons are functioning arrangements that connect people to the material and social things they share and use to survive and operate outside of—but most frequently alongside—capitalist markets. Studies in human ecology refer to commons as “common property regimes” and distinguish ‘common property’ from ’state’ and ’private’ property (Bromley 1992; McCay and Acheson 1987). The distinction between common and private property is misleading in that all commons (with the exception of global commons, such as space or Antarctica) include some people but exclude others from membership, and are private in the latter extended sense. In case anyone was tempted to treat commons as utopias, it should be pointed out that often outsiders are excluded by violence from the commons resources when they try to use them— as fishermen seeking to move into fishing areas controlled by a fishing commons have often learned to their regret when their boats have later been sunk or their nets or traps cut (Acheson 1987; Cordell and McKean 1992). Strictly speaking, private property is individually owned property, which state law and policy allow to be treated as a commodity, whereas members of a commons refuse to allow the resources that they jointly control as common property to be so treated, even though legally they often could be. Nor is common property always easily distinguished from state property. Ambiguities occur when governments subject already existing commons systems to monitoring and regulation, for example, when the state acts as arbiter between competing commons groups seeking access to resources. Moreover, the kinds of commons discussed below all may operate on more than one


scale—the local, infra-national, national, transnational, or global. Natural-resource commons (fisheries, forests, land, water supplies, etc.) show depletion of a resource-base stock or flow over time (Gudeman 2001: 52–53), with the consequence that the resource is a “rival good,” in that a quantity accessed by one user prevents another potential user from using that quantity of it (Nelson 2004: 462). Viewed overall, natural-resource commons show this “subtractability”—what one user takes is not available to another, and over time continued use subtracts from the total quantity of the resource available to all users (Oakerson 1992: 43–44). One form of natural-resource commons would be organized around resources that are not only depletable but also non-renewable. No amount of technical effort could be expended to renew and regenerate more of these resources for future use. Such commons exist only hypothetically at this point. If access to fossil-based fuels were organized around commons, this would be an example. The other form of natural-resource commons is organized around resources that are depletable but renewable. Resources such as farm land, pastures, forests, fisheries, coral reefs, irrigation, and potable waters can be regenerated through appropriate human effort at restocking. Such commons exist in large numbers. What is at issue is not just whether a resource is capable of being renewed under specific ecological conditions, but also whether sufficient and effective efforts at renewal are in fact occurring. This latter question is precisely the political one of whether arrangements exist that do or do not provide for renewal. Simply put, within ecological parameters, commons create the conditions for renewal while neither current capitalist processes of production nor state interventions do. In this forum section, the articles by Pickles, Lu, and Boyer deal with such natural-resource commons.

Donald M. Nonini

Social commons are organized around access by users to social resources created by specific kinds of human labor: caring for the sick, the elderly, and children; educating children; maintaining households; finding or creating pure water; removing waste; even policing. There is a vast variety of such arrangements, of course, whose differences can qualitatively be determined, but the point is precisely that all polities have some variant of social commons, often organized and administered in part by the state. These social resources are finite and thus depletable, once a certain stock of them has been created at a specific stage of social development. But they also renewable, if investment by their users in maintaining them within the commons occurs at a rate sufficient for their replenishment. Again, whether they are renewed or not is a political question. Most social-resource commons are organized along lines of family, kin, and local affiliations: ’community’ might be most viably defined as all those who self-reflexively have rights to partake of and obligations to renew certain common-pool resources (Gudeman 2001: 27). Common social resources are rival goods (e.g., if one person who is sick or injured has access to a physician’s time, another will be unable to see that doctor), but they also possess ‘positive externalities’—that is, positive effects on the lives of people who are not their users. The more people who use pure drinking water, the fewer the number of people who need access to health care; the more children who receive adequate care when they are reared, the fewer who later develop anti-social traits requiring policing. In short, the greater the number of people who have equal access to these social resources, the less stress placed on their stocks as a whole. In this forum, the essays by Pickles, Boyer, and Smith-Nonini bear directly on such social commons.


Intellectual and cultural commons are organized around shared intellectual and cultural resources, such as scientific concepts, theories, methods, data, technologies and devices of research, and artistic and musical products, artistic and creative skills, artistic and artisanal technologies, etc. Both kinds of commons are constituted by human activities defined by “deep” and serious play (Huizinga 1955). Although like all resources they are finite, intellectual and cultural resources are non-rival goods; that is, one person engaged in learning a scientific method or playing music does not diminish the learning or pleasure of other people simultaneously doing the same. To the contrary, one can argue that intellectual and cultural resources can be created and regenerated only through social exchange and sociability—and often the more intense and frequent the social interactions, the greater the use-value of the intellectual or cultural products that come out of them. The greater the number of scientists working on a research problem sharing data, methods, etc., the more readily the problem is solved and the more effective the solution. The more people who share their musical skills, tastes, and instruments, the richer and more diverse will be the music they will be able to play and listen to. Unlike natural-resource and social commons, which are subtractive, intellectual and cultural commons are both non-subtractive and generative. Both intellectual and cultural commons operate on the basis of a “gift economy” (Bollier 2002: 31), whereby those participating share a sense of a common project and contribute what they produce to it in return for a variety of non-commercial motivations (e.g., seeking prestige). Finally, there is the recent emergence of species commons, where the resources in question are a number of inherent attributes of humans as a species—human bodies as such, body organs, and gene sequences,

Donald M. Nonini

etc.—considered by widely shared (if not universal) moral or religious codes to be ineligible for commodity status, or “market-inalienable” (Radin 1992).3 Those who participate in these commons do so by enunciating and enforcing shared norms that these resources are inalienable attributes of living persons and should never be treated as commodities: because they are not fungible, their separation from a person of whom they are attributes does that person irrevocable injury. Thus, norms have come into existence against the commodification of embryos, of body organs, of children for adoption, and of human beings as slaves. Many people also treat laboratory-derived human gene sequences and genetically modified organisms as market-inalienable. What is being shared within a species commons among participants are not these attributes as such, but the human labor expended to protect them from commodification. To participants in a species commons—whether activists in the women’s movement seeking to block trafficking of sexual slaves, or physicians seeking to prevent the trade in human organs—commodification of human attributes is a ‘category mistake’ incommensurate with their status as definitive for species or personal integrity. These commons in species attributes have largely gone unnoticed, emerging only recently as objects of struggle for those opposed to new illicit and illegal markets that have been made profitable for the first time by contemporary trends in transnational travel, trade, invention of new financial mechanisms (e.g., derivatives), and risk management (LiPuma and Lee 2004). Although species commons are new, they deserve attention because the species attributes they seek to sequester from commodification are almost universally considered essential to definitions of what it is to be human. In this forum, the essay by Scharper and Cunningham deals with one such commons—that of human genetic materials.


The Prevalence of Commons and Hybrid Connections As to why ‘the commons’ has become a global idea, one might start by making the obvious point that although large numbers of persons are increasingly being treated as economically superfluous, this by no means implies that the majority are bereft of control over commons resources—indeed, it is the processes of dispossession that are only now separating them from such resources. Following on a point that Eric Wolf (1969) made long ago with respect to insurgent “middle peasants,” I would argue that those who still have access to commons resources possess the assets and capabilities required to engage in political struggles over the commons, and also have most personally at stake as to the outcomes. However, even those who make up the most dispossessed and distressed groups, such as urban lumpenproletarians of the global South or the ‘precariate’ of Eastern Europe, are engaged in efforts to create social commons within their lives to provide access to resources needed for their survival—food and living space, for instance (Price 2004; see also Pickles’s essay, this volume). Occasionally, those who seek to preserve the commons are victorious in such struggles with corporations, national governments, or other elements in the corporate alliance. Goldman (1998: 7–8) observes that “disgruntled fisherfolk, forest extractors or women rights’ activists actually have the power to stop a World Bank steamroller”—but not in all times or places. One implication of this point is less obvious. The methods of market valuation that corporations and their sponsoring states apply to common-pool resources and the ways in which these are valued by those who use them on an everyday basis are radically incommensurate, although they frequently co-exist. The functional webs of interde-


Donald M. Nonini

pendence that people who organize their lives around common-pool resources have created—not only with respect to these resources but also with respect to one another— cannot be reduced to market valuations, although at the margins the collective product may be subject to external market pricing. There is an ontological gap between inside and outside: within a commons, participants reject the individualist and economistic basis of capitalist evaluation (Goldman 1998: 16–17), and deploy discourses of fairness and need, in contrast to outside, where market valuations usually prevail. This is to say that the whole process of “combined and uneven development” in the history of capitalism (Trotsky 1961) has not gone away; instead, a remarkable variety of hybrid arrangements for the use of common-pool resources exist. There are instances of small-scale, noncapitalist economies with functioning natural-resource commons that still can be found in the peripheries of capitalist imperial expansion (see Lu’s essay, this volume). New common property among those experiencing precariousness by being excluded from post-socialist economies has emerged in Eastern Europe (see Pickles’s essay, this volume), while remnants of socialist property relations endure elsewhere, as in China (Nonini under review). A large number of residents of the South in rural areas, cities, and towns still have substantial control over public goods such as water treated as common-pool resources (Olivera and Lewis 2004). Some local economies combine communal naturalresource use with limited capitalist-valuation methods, for example, in selling resources jointly allotted and collected, as in the case of fisheries or other natural-resource commons in the North (Acheson 1987). Wherever capitalist relations of production prevail, as Gibson-Graham (1996: 46–71, 206–237) has pointed out, non-capitalist practices



and caring centered on domestic units and the work of social reproduction by women provide common social resources that make men’s participation in the capitalist labor force possible. In the tropical and semi-tropical regions in the South, curers, farmers, and others organized around intellectual commons have incorporated into their local knowledge practices using biological materials that confer use-value (for healing, fertility, etc.). These materials have not, until quite recently, been disembedded from these knowledge practices and subjected to market valuations by corporations (Chander and Sunder 2004; Escobar 1995). In Northern universities, scientific commons formed in the sharing of research knowledge generate products (theories, methods, data, materials) that have not yet been subject to enclosure, although recently their situation has changed radically (see Washburn 2005: 146; Nonini essay, this volume). Cultural commons in music, art, and handicrafts—many of whose creations are being threatened by the copyrighting practices of media corporations (Coombe 1998)—are nonetheless widespread. Cultural commons are particularly central to sustaining the cultural heritage of ethnic and national minorities (Coombe 2005). Most remarkable has been the emergence of species commons at a number of scales whose participants seek to reserve certain fundamental attributes of the person from commodification. The masses of people in the global South and North who live and work in hybrid economies that simultaneously juxtapose capitalist institutions (e.g., labor markets) with commons therefore encompass populations in a great range of different circumstances. But what marks them all off is access to common-pool resources that capitalism has not, as yet, succeeded in taking over or arrogating to its own regimes of market valuation. These resources are


Donald M. Nonini

vital to their economic and social survival. All kinds of commons, the resources they use, and the communities that both use and regenerate them are now in grave peril. This leads to a logical question: what are the conditions that have jeopardized so many different kinds of commons in such diverse sites around the world and that threaten so many aspects of human flourishing?

Crises Compounded? The Weardown of the Commons It has long been noted that capitalism is prone to periodic crises of overaccumulation that are internal to it and that recur. There is ample evidence that contemporary capitalism is undergoing such a crisis. However, a second kind of qualitatively new crisis may now be unfolding. It takes the form of multi-dimensional and increasingly ubiquitous degradations in the conditions of material life crucial to the existence of capitalism. Until recently, these processes of degradation have not assumed the form of systemic crisis but rather of many disasters inflicted on localized populations and ecosystems in which corporations have first consumed resources to exhaustion and then moved onward—or ‘cut and run’, so to speak. These processes have long been accompanied by enclosure of the various forms of commons discussed above. What appears to be different now is that this pattern of spatial expansion— leaving populations and residual resources in ruin to recover (to the extent possible)—is now reaching its global limits, with an increasing probability of the exhaustion of the recovery of resources that are undergoing continuous, intensive use. As this prospect for a new global involution in the capitalization of resources grows, the frenetic efforts of the corporate alliance to enclose new resources is leading to the worldwide ‘weardown’ of the commons arrangements on which capitalism itself depends. When



weardown of local commons has been transformed into weardown of commons everywhere, then the “spatiotemporal fixes” of capitalism (Harvey 2003: 108–124) no longer work, and instead a second kind of crisis confronts capitalism—one qualitatively new. My contention is that both kinds of crisis—a perennial overaccumulation crisis and a new crisis of multi-dimensional and nearly ubiquitous weardown—are conjoined at present. There is much evidence that capitalism is currently experiencing an uneven but worsening crisis of overaccumulation of capital with little or no way to reinvest surplus capital, given a glut of commodities brought on by an absence of new and realizable demand throughout much of the global economy (Harvey 2003). The catalyst for the current crisis has been the massive devaluation of labor globally since the 1980s, brought about by the rise of post-Mao China (Harvey 2005). The new financing and credit mechanisms that lubricate ongoing global demand by increasing the debt-bearing capacities of middle and working classes in the North have only deferred the current crisis, and there are signs that the huge debt burden is reaching its structural limits. Faced by mounting capital surpluses that cannot be invested, corporations and allied nation-states have responded by making massive incursions into the commons across a broad front of heterogeneous areas of material life. The goal is to ‘free up’ resources heretofore not accessible for commercialization in order to profitably invest excess capital combined with them in new streams of production. Since these incursions confront areas of life where collective resources are not capitalized—that is, not subjected to market logic—and where those who share them are not inclined on their own to capitalize them, the major means for doing so have been the political measures of nation-states, including violence. These incursions are “accumulation by dispossession” (Harvey 2003)—com-


Donald M. Nonini

binations of imposed market forces and state violence that dispossess those to whom these resources belong. These initiatives by the corporate alliance are so encompassing in the areas of material life they touch upon that they represent no less than a campaign for universal commodification of the use-values central to the survival of human beings. By force (as in the case of Iraq) or by renegotiation of sovereignty with states (e.g., by imposing structural adjustment policies and regional or global treaties such as the North American Free Trade Agreement or the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property agreement), corporations, other businesses and allied states have engaged in concerted efforts to capitalize patches and regions of resources that have at most been only partially privatized but not yet made fully available for capitalist development, such as national forests, offshore oil fields, and fresh-water aquifers. They have capitalized resources formerly controlled by local ethnic and tribal groups—farmers and pastoralists long recognized as having specific collective rights to use these resources. They have sought to transform through privatization previously public goods administered by states for the use of citizens into commodities, such as water and electricity. They have enclosed the intellectual and cultural creations of scientific inventors, artists, and craftspeople, which had once freely circulated among creators and users, through the expansion of private intellectual property rights. They have created new illicit and illegal markets in species attributes—in human beings, children, body organs—that are not considered commodities by most people, and aim to extend as much as possible the markets in commodities whose use is widely regarded as anti-social, such as arms and narcotics. But there is more to these incursions than coping with an overaccumulation crisis, and it has to do with the broader relationship that corporations have to material life. James



O’Connor (1998) refers to the tendency of corporations to seek continually to reduce their costs of production; yet in doing so, they fail to ensure that the “conditions of production,” which degrade over time, are themselves reproduced. O’Connor distinguishes three kinds of production conditions—labor power, natural resources, and urban (and other settlement) spaces—that are essential facilities for or inputs to the capitalist labor process. In the case of all three, corporations and other capitalist enterprises seek to gain access to these conditions at the lowest possible cost to themselves and to externalize the social costs of reproducing these conditions. Corporations require educated and healthy workers but avoid the taxes required to pay for their education and health. They seek out natural resources such as timber but refuse to pay for reforestation. They require the use of urban space but reject responsibility for polluting it or paying for its remediation. Eventually, this tendency to cut production costs and the subsequent failure to sustain these three kinds of productive conditions lead to deep injury and degradation—to what I call ‘weardown’—of the material world on which capitalism depends for its own existence. In addition to the incursions listed above, weardown of the commons takes place when corporations and allied states cut the internalized costs of capitalist production and neglect to take measures to reproduce the conditions of production by: • attriting the bodily conditions under which labor power is reproduced—that is, wearing down the bodies of workers harmed by workplace injuries, occupationally related diseases, and exhaustion from an increase in working hours, and by the stresses arising from unemployment, scrounging, and living in the streets;


Donald M. Nonini

• degrading the social resources—that is, the productive conditions by means of which labor power is itself reproduced—by extending the working hours of workers while failing to provide private or government resources to those, especially women, engaged in the social-reproductive labors of child and elder care, household provision, education, and care for those injured by the production process; • generating pollution and waste—such as acid rain, hydrocarbon emissions, poisoned waterways, toxic waste dumps—during production, the remediation of which is not included in the internal cost of production; • engaging in short-term overuse of (and destruction of the biological and social processes that reproduce) natural resources such as forests, waterways, fisheries (e.g., mountaintop removal by coal companies), and the material infrastructure (roads, bridges, harbors, etc.) connected to their exploitation; • devaluing urban and other settlement spaces—and the conditions of life of people residing within them—due to depositing and emitting toxic substances relocated there (‘brownfields’) and to cycles of devaluation linked to gentrification and suburban sprawl, with these devalued spaces being occupied primarily by poor people and racially stigmatized minorities; • more broadly, actively withdrawing social capital (e.g., taxes) and reducing the capacities of the social commons that make the reproduction of all three kinds of productive conditions possible—of which imposing neo-liberal state policies of ‘downsizing government’ is only a special case; • impeding the free flow of information, theories, methods, and techniques of scientific research by



enclosing these as private intellectual property with patents; • impeding the control by people of sub-cultural groups over their own distinctive cultural creations, such as popular music, arts, literature, and handicrafts, by commodification and copyright, thus cutting them off from their means of cultural reproduction. In all of these areas, productive conditions exist not in nature as such but as socialized common-pool resources, and the varieties of assault on them mentioned above represent no less than the weardown or even outright destruction of the commons through which people share these resources in everyday life. Insofar as the three kinds of productive conditions are crucial to capitalism’s reproduction as an economic system, its own tendencies are cannibalistic. Weardown means that capitalism ‘shits in its own nest’, which, unfortunately, is also the nest in which all human beings live (Goldman 1998; O’Connor 1998). If a capitalist overaccumulation crisis is not in doubt, is there evidence that it is currently conjoined with a singular equi-final crisis brought about by the failure of corporations and states to sustain the conditions of production, where spatial expansion is no longer an option, and the extensive weardown of the world’s natural-resource, social, intellectual, cultural, and species commons is characteristic? There seems increasing evidence for some kind of impending pivot point in the history of global capitalism arising from the intensive exploitation of worndown resources of all kinds. This pivot point would appear to lead if not from capitalism to some radically different systemic state—for example, socialism—then from capitalism to a new period of endemic social disorder, demographic crashes, intensified mass violence, and refeudalizations marked by quali-


Donald M. Nonini

tatively new, nature-imposed global scarcities, in which advanced capitalism as we know it is no longer the dominant formation. It may be that the old dilemma—socialism or barbarism—is becoming a more transparent issue, as is a newer one—the commons or barbarism. As things stand, renewable but rapidly depleting natural-resource commons—for example, the world’s major oceanic fisheries—are not being renewed. Non-renewable stocks of petroleum and related fossil-fuel sources have been run down in a remarkably short period of time, as recent concerns about “peak oil” (Goodstein 2004) attest. Major environmental processes of atmospheric warming, rising sea levels, deforestation, acid deposition, waterway pollution and poisoning, and coral reef deterioration have been tangibly widespread and accelerated on global, regional, and national scales. There is a massive amount of evidence that the social commons of the world, especially but not only in the global South, have experienced moderate to severe weardown over the last two to three decades due to diminished state expenditures brought about by dominant neo-liberal ideologies or imposed by IFI structural adjustment requirements and the chaotic conditions now prevailing in states undergoing recomposition (see Chossudovsky 2003; also Boyer’s, Pickles’s, and SmithNonini’s essays, this volume). Weardown of intellectual, especially Northern scientific, commons has occurred as knowledge, competencies, technologies, methods, and so on have been privatized by corporations’ and Northern universities’ enclosures and the patenting of scientists’ inventions. In the meantime, corporate appropriation via patents of the products of local-knowledge commons in the global South has accelerated, thus degrading the regenerative capacity of commons in both regions (see Washburn 2005; see Nonini essay, this volume). Cultural commons have also begun to experience weardown during the prior



two decades through the arrogation of much of the world’s literary, artistic, and performative skills and products to copyrights held by transnational media and culture industries (see Boyle 2003; Coombe 1998), with weardown only impeded through widespread flouting of corporate intellectual property rights by large proportions of the world’s population. Species commons have undergone extensive weardown, given the onslaught of advancing commodification of personal attributes (e.g., human organs) through their illicit or illegal trafficking and ‘laundering’ through transnational mobility, secrecy, and discrete partitioning. The market in human gene sequences is as yet only in formation, but many feel the patenting of human genetic materials violates basic norms of market-inalienability for these personal or population attributes (see Scharper and Cunningham essay, this volume).

What’s Going, What’s Gone, and What Remains to Be Defended—and by Whom This is where the corporate alliance with nation-states makes its appearance, according to O’Connor. When production conditions in any of these areas (or others) deteriorate too far, O’Connor (1998: 158–177) argues, states and IFIs that are patrons of corporations and other business enterprises compensate by intervening with legislation, taxation, and policies to regenerate, restore, or remediate these production conditions. Thus, state rationalities of resource management (or ecological modernization), planning, welfare, environmental treaties, etc., putatively come into play. But these interventions, O’Connor argues, entail the risk of creating a political crisis: this politicization of the reproduction of conditions of production takes on a social character outside of the economy, which is the putative domain of control of corporations. Transparent


Donald M. Nonini

state intervention on behalf of corporations then becomes the object of active and growing opposition by new social movements in civil society. These groups include people in the women’s movement, environmentalist and environmental justice movements, movements against workplace injury, and many more. In O’Connor’s view, their demands on states—in particular, those with pretensions of being democratic—may then bring about a political crisis for capitalist states and thus for the entire capitalist system. Are redemptive state interventions to forestall weardown of productive conditions even possible in the current situation? States are now taking on new configurations. What can be observed is the rise of new “oligarchic-corporate state formations” (Kapferer 2005), which, as governing entities, have abandoned or are abandoning their support for the survival of the dependent populations of their citizenries. These new formations are aggregations of organizational forms in which, on the one hand, states are becoming more corporate-like through withdrawal from the social contract and through the privatization of public goods and services (even policing and military protection), and becoming more oligarchic through the institutionalization of families, kin-based dynasties, cliques, and networks as ruling groups. On the other hand, transnational corporations are progressively taking on state-like attributes—controlling territories and the resources within them for their use in private accumulation, hiring their own private armies and mafias, and administering through their bureaucracies to privileged client populations of consumers, state officials, regional mafias, and local power holders (ibid.: 169). These oligarchic-corporate state hybrids appear structurally incapable of engaging in successful strategies for remediating the productive conditions that heretofore have been sustained by the various kinds of commons



that have already undergone extensive weardown and continue to experience it. Nor do the prosthetics of multinational coalitions of oligarchic-corporate states—like the ‘sustainable development’ programs of the United Nations or the World Bank’s Global Environmental Fund—operate to protect the commons, which still organize the use and reproduction of these conditions. Instead, the official sustainable development era represents the advent of a global technocratic and scientistic ethos of ecological modernization (Harvey 1996), in which IFIs and other multi-lateral organizations (such as the UN Development Programme) seek to rationalize the capture of these resources for future corporate exploitation, while engaging in “[t]he resignification of nature as environment; [and] the reinscription of the Earth into capital via the gaze of science” (Escobar 1995: 202). The protection and regeneration of the different kinds of commons that sustain labor power, the environment, and settlement space, if they are to take place at all, must instead fall on those who are still connected to the commons on an everyday basis and on their allies. People across the world who are linked to these commons are becoming increasingly aware that they themselves must act, not only to preserve their connections to the material resources that sustain their lives, but also to protect and regenerate these resources as such. This is why, as O’Connor (1998; see also Goldman 1998) projects, social movements organized around the concerns of women, farmers, indigenous peoples, and transnational labor migrants, and those committed to environmental justice, workplace safety, resource conservation, health care, disability rights, and many related interests, are now posing and will continue to pose major threats to corporations’ savage ‘business as usual’ and to the oligarchic-corporate states that support them.


Donald M. Nonini

The struggles against the corporate alliance by these mobilized social movements to protest against and turn back multiple forms of oppression, and to protect the many kinds of non-commodified arrangements people have for sharing resources critical to their survival, are multi-fronted, occur at more than one scale of engagement, and are worldwide in scope. Appearing much of the time as uncoordinated, decentralized, and spontaneous, these movements are increasingly taking form selfconsciously as connected to, and even part of, a broader global counter-movement against the radical assaults of the corporate alliance. Much is at stake. Although this new counter-movement has many elements and articulates very heterogeneous interests, one of its axial, global ideas is that of the commons.

Notes 1. In this essay, I employ the term ‘commons’ for both the singular and plural to refer either to a single set of arrangements for the use of a specific ‘common-pool resource’ or to more than one such set of arrangements, depending on context, to avoid using the awkward term ‘commonses’. 2. Critics of Hardin’s thesis (see McCay and Acheson 1987: 7–9) have also pointed out that Hardin’s (1968) argument fatally confuses a commons with an ‘open-access’ regime—in which there are no institutions or practices developed to govern the use of an available resource—and fails to take into account the role of capitalism and of individualism in ending commons arrangements. 3. Species commons also include non-human species attributes, for example, the individuals of biological species considered endangered, representing a broad human commitment to the survival of most non-human biospecies. However, these are not dealt with here.



References Acheson, James M. 1987. “The Lobster Fiefs Revisited: Economic and Ecological Effects of Territoriality in Maine Lobster Fishing.” Pp. 37–65 in The Question of the Commons: The Culture and Ecology of Communal Resources, ed. A. McCurdy and J. M. Acheson. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. Bollier, David. 2002. Silent Theft: The Private Plunder of Our Common Wealth. New York: Routledge. Boyle, James. 2003. “The Second Enclosure Movement and the Construction of the Public Domain.” Law and Contemporary Problems 66: 33–74. Bromley, Daniel W. 1992. “The Commons, Property, and CommonProperty Regimes.” Pp. 3–16 in Bromley et al. 1992. Bromley, Daniel W., David Feeny, Margaret A. McKean, Pauline Peters, Jere L. Gilles, Ronald J. Oakerson, C. Ford Runge, and James T. Thomson, eds. 1992. Making the Commons Work: Theory, Practice, and Policy. San Francisco: Institute for Contemporary Studies Press. Chander, Anupam, and Mahdavi Sunder. 2004. “The Romance of the Public Domain.” California Law Review 92, no. 5: 1331– 1373. Chossudovsky, Michel. 2003. The Globalization of Poverty and the New World Order. Shanty Bay, Ont.: Global Outlook. Coombe, Rosemary. 1998. The Cultural Life of Intellectual Properties. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. ______. 2005. “Cultural Rights and Intellectual Property Debates.” Human Rights Dialogue 2: 34–36. Cordell, John, and Margaret McKean. 1992. “Sea Tenure in Bahia, Brazil.” Pp. 183–206 in Bromley et al. 1992. Dietz, Thomas, Elinor Ostrom, and Paul C. Stern. 2003. “The Struggle to Govern the Commons.” Science 302: 1907–1912. Escobar, Arturo. 1995. Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Gibson-Graham, J. K. 1996. The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It). Oxford: Blackwell. Goldman, Michael. 1998. “Introduction: The Political Resurgence of the Commons.” Pp. 1–19 in Privatizing Nature: Political Struggles


Donald M. Nonini

for the Global Commons, ed. M. Goldman. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. Goodstein, David L. 2004. Out of Gas: The End of the Age of Oil. New York: W.W. Norton. Gudeman, Stephen. 2001. The Anthropology of Economy. Oxford: Blackwell. Hardin, Garrett. 1968. “The Tragedy of the Commons.” Science 162: 1243–1248. Harvey, David. 1996. Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell. ______. 2003. The New Imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ______. 2005. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. New York: Oxford University Press. Huizinga, Johan. 1955. Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture. Boston: Beacon Press. Kapferer, Bruce. 2005. “Introduction: Oligarchic corporations and new state formations.” Social Analysis 49, no. 1: 163–176. LiPuma, Edward, and Benjamin Lee. 2004. Financial Derivatives and the Globalization of Risk. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. McCay, Bonnie, and James M. Acheson. 1987. “Human Ecology of the Commons.” Pp. 1–34 in The Question of the Commons: The Culture and Ecology of Communal Resources, ed. B. McCay and J. M. Acheson. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. McKean, Margaret. 1992. “Management of Traditional Common Lands (Iriaichi) in Japan.” Pp. 63–98 in Bromley et al. 1992. National Research Council. 1986. Proceedings of the Conference on Common Property Resource Management. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. Nelson, Richard R. 2004. “The Market Economy and the Scientific Commons.” Research Policy 33: 455–471. Netting, Robert M. 1981. Balancing on an Alp: Ecological Change and Continuity in a Swiss Mountain Community. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Nonini, Donald. Under review. “Is China Becoming Neoliberal?” Submitted to Critique of Anthropology. Oakerson, Ronald J. 1992. “Analyzing the Commons: A Framework.” Pp. 41–59 in Bromley et al. 1992. O’Connor, James. 1998. Natural Causes: Essays in Ecological Marxism. New York: Guilford Press.



Olivera, Oscar, and Tom Lewis. 2004. Cochabamba! Water War in Bolivia. Cambridge, MA: South End Press. Ostrom, Elinor. 1990. Governing the Commons. New York: Cambridge University Press. Ostrom, Elinor, Joanna Burger, Christopher B. Field, Richard B. Norgaard, and David Policansky. 1999. “Revisiting the Commons: Local Lessons, Global Challenges.” Science 284: 278–282. Price, Charles. 2004. “What the Zeeks Uprising Reveals: Development Issues, Moral Economy, and the Urban Lumpenproletariat in Jamaica.” Urban Anthropology 33, no. 1: 73–113. Radin, Margaret J. 1992. “Market-Inalienability.” Pp. 174–194 in The Ethics of Reproductive Technology, ed. K. D. Alpern. New York: Oxford University Press. Trawick, Paul B. 2003. The Struggle for Water in Peru: Comedy and Tragedy in the Andean Commons. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Trotsky, Leon. 1961. The History of the Russian Revolution. Trans. Max Eastman. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Washburn, Jennifer. 2005. University, Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of American Higher Education. New York: Basic Books. Wolf, Eric R. 1969. Peasant Wars of the Twentieth Century. New York: Harper & Row.

Collectivism, Universalism, and Struggles over Common Property Resources in the ‘New Europe’

7 John Pickles

Anyone who studies post-socialist political economy probably has to begin a discussion of ‘the commons’ and common property resources by explaining the relationship between common property and collectivism, and the enormous impact that liberal and neo-liberal thought and institutions have had on the social economies of the Eastern European commons. In this article, I want to do this in three ways. First, I argue that contemporary accounts of socialist and post-socialist common property resources and practices have been shaped by the commitments of neo-liberalism and have had the very particular effect (and perhaps intent) of discrediting certain kinds of collective

The ‘New Europe’


action and common property institutions. Second, I illustrate the ways in which a new definition of the commons has emerged in Europe—one that struggles to harmonize juridical and political aspirations for a peaceful and inclusive European Union with a common economic project and space of harmonized markets and trade policy. These twinned projects of this new ‘common economic union’ and their own versions of what constitutes a public, a commons, as well as their universal value, are increasingly conflated with post-colonial notions of a return to Europe and with deeply historical and racialized views of identity and commonality. The building of markets through the institutions and projects of structural adjustment and shock therapy has resulted in a thoroughgoing integration of the economies of the region with those of the broader international market and a fundamental recomposition of class forces in the region. One result has been a reworking of notions of inclusion and exclusion, whose focus has centered on citizenship, rights, and obligations, and on public and private spaces. Third, I suggest some of the ways in which the conjuncture of globalization, European integration, and social and racial reordering has rendered the struggle over the commons more important to those in the region desperately seeking economic security.

1989 and All That Let me give you my vision: A man’s right to work as he will, to spend what he earns, to own property, to have the state as servant and not as master … They are the essence of a free country, and on that freedom all of our other freedoms depend. (Thatcher 1998)

For many commentators on either side of the Iron Curtain, the revolutions of 1989 represented what Tismaneanu (1999: 69) called “the triumph of civic dignity and


John Pickles

political morality over ideological monism, bureaucratic cynicism, and police dictatorship. Rooted in an individualistic concept of freedom and skeptical of all ideological blueprints for social engineering, these revolutions were (at least at the outset) liberal and non-utopian.” Some were less optimistic about the transition process and the immediate consequences of the emerging liberal outlook across the region. For others, the alignment of economic and political institutions around a monolithic anti-communism also signaled the emergence of a new hegemony for building capitalism and with it a triumphal market ideology forged in the trenches of Thatcher’s Britain and Reagan’s America. As Jacques Derrida (1994: 51–52) pointed out at the time: No one, it seems to me, can contest the fact that a dogmatics is attempting to install its worldwide hegemony in paradoxical and suspect conditions … This dominating discourse often has the manic, jubilatory, and incantatory form that Freud assigned to the so-called triumphant phase of mourning work. The incantation repeats and ritualizes itself, it holds forth and holds to formulas, like any animistic magic. To the rhythm of a cadenced march, it proclaims: Marx is dead, communism is dead, very dead, and along with it its hopes, its discourse, its theories, and its practices. It says: long live capitalism, long live the market, here’s to the survival of economic and political liberalism!

Margaret Thatcher’s vision was of a new political and economic dispensation for Europe—free of the planning mechanisms of the bureaucratic state (be it in its statesocialist or social-democratic form) and fueled by the unfettered individualism of a liberal polity and economy. This was wielded with uncompromising force by the Bretton Woods project and its associated institutions of transformation (most specifically the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and European Bank for Reconstruc-

The ‘New Europe’


tion and Development; see World Bank 1996), with their ready-made prescriptions to privatize collective property and liberalize markets. National politicians in the region also sought to outmaneuver the more social-democratic tendencies in reform movements themselves, including Solidarnos´c´ in Poland, the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, and in the reformed socialist parties and more cautious nationalist and agrarian parties throughout the region. For young and old ‘democrats’, collectivism could only mean—as it did for Thatcher and Hayek (1994)—a ‘road to serfdom’. The post-socialist transition meant private property, market logics, political individualism, and a deep commitment to the universalism of a common neo-liberal European project (Gowan 1995, 1996). Hidden here was also a broader positivist and objectivist belief in what the nineteenth century had understood as the stationary state—a state of generalized social equilibrium arising from the ways in which rational market decisions are made by individual and social actors. For Balibar (2004: 106): “The result of this is not, of course, to render any further transformation impossible; cultural and technological changes can, in fact, go on and even accelerate. But transformation would henceforth occur without essential conflictuality between classes, social groups, powers, and counterpowers, ‘systemic’ and ‘antisystemic’ forces.” This was a “return to Europe”—the restitution of an interrupted path to democracy and capitalism in which history had come to “an end” (Fukuyama 1989, 1992). This new liberalism rode triumphant into Central and Eastern Europe, often with the support of actors as diverse as right-wing communists, left-wing liberals, and internationalist free-marketeers. The radical individualism and anti-collectivism that swept across the region quickly labeled collective and common property regimes, some long pre-dating communism, to be barriers to economic development and ‘efficiency’, and they were quickly dis-


John Pickles

mantled, often by force (Pickles 2005). In Bulgaria, for example, collective animal farms were broken up and breeding stock that had been developed over decades was slaughtered for market. Collective farms were ‘restituted’ to their 1948 owners, many of whom were now elderly or urban residents lacking interest in the land. Even when former owners agreed to maintain the agricultural cooperative as a cooperative of private owners, the government of the time required that ‘restitution commissions’ first distribute land titles, equipment, and stock to individuals. Only when asset distribution was complete could cooperative members attempt to reconstitute the collective assets of the farm. In the industrial sector, the logics of decollectivization and privatization of assets also dominated political struggles. In part, these struggles were about the timing of the distribution of private assets, with enterprise managers desperately attempting to run asset values down and delay privatization auctions until they had positioned themselves to be able to buy. In many cases, it was this willed running down of enterprise assets that subsequently was interpreted as collective enterprise inefficiency. In this transition, complexity and diversity were understood mainly in terms of a new universalism of preferences, choices, and marginal utility. Economic governance was to be structured by price signals among presumed autonomous and equivalent economic actors, and the diverse economies of actually existing socialism and capitalism (with their dense social networks and practices of gifting, reciprocity, and exchange) were rendered as signs of ‘backwardness’. The project managers of structural adjustment had, ironically, come to agree with Lenin’s ([1899] 1967: 607) earlier assessment of capitalism in Russia, in which he had argued that: in no single capitalist country has there been such an abundant survival of ancient institutions that are incom-

The ‘New Europe’


patible with capitalism, retard its development, and immeasurably worsen the conditions of the producers, who ‘suffer’ [quoting Marx] not only from the development of capitalist production, but from the incompleteness of that development.”

In the post-1989 process of adjustment, projects of collective economy and support for the regulation and management of common property resources received crushing blows. For many enterprises and communities, the blows were fatal: farmland went out of cultivation, marginal lands were overgrazed, timber resources went untended or were stripped, industrial enterprises saw their equipment sold off, wages were captured by the management of central plants, and workshops and factories were closed. Investment capital dried up, and social infrastructure funded either by enterprise or by cooperative budgets collapsed. Health care and education suffered serious declines, and fundamental services such as prenatal care, kindergartens, and rural transport collapsed (see Hekimova et al. 2004; Meurs and Giddings 2004). The consequences of this kind of expansion of market logics to ever broader geographical and sociological regions is a project that leads to what Balibar (2004: 106–107) has called “inner exclusion.” Across Central and Eastern Europe, it effected a deep transformation in the social practices of the commons, at the level of both the state economy and its bureaucratic collectivism and also at the level of the everyday community economy (ibid.): Once all human activity takes the form of commodity exchange, or occurs under the constraint of the law of value, there is no place available for alternative practices and modes of life. There exist only forms of inner exclusion, synonymous with extreme precariousness and verging on elimination. Likewise, if the allocation of resources is more and more regulated on the global level


John Pickles

‘in real time’, it is difficult to see where there could be space for individual and collective adventures, for economic challenges or projects for autonomous development. The only question would be how quickly and easily one can adapt to changing technological conditions.

Globalization, Common Property Regimes, and Diverse Economies The aim of a Europe open to enterprise is the moving force behind the creation of the Single European Market by 1992. By getting rid of barriers, by making it possible for companies to operate on a Europe-wide scale, we can best compete with the United States, Japan and the other new economic powers emerging in Asia and elsewhere … And that means action to free markets, action to widen choice, action to reduce government intervention … and to remove the constraints on trade. (Thatcher 1998)

The reform of state-socialist collective-property regimes and the depth of their effects received a great deal of attention from scholars and policy makers after 1989 (e.g., Sachs 1995). Much of this discussion focused on the legacy of collective ownership, problems of decollectivization and privatization, new regulatory frameworks, loss of traditional markets, and constraints on entry into new markets. More recently, attention has been given to the uneven achievements of the ‘transition’ and the diversity of property regimes that sustained the embedded social economies of state socialism and post-socialism (Meurs 2001, 2002; Smith and Stenning 2006; Stark and Bruszt 1998; Verdery 1996). And it is in these new literatures that we see explicit consideration given to the possibilities of models for thinking about disorganized capitalism, social marginalization, and precariousness not as precluding

The ‘New Europe’


common property and resource mobilization strategies, but as absolutely bound to them. In this sense, common property resources have become more, not less, important in the daily lives of ‘new’ Europeans, as well as among a broader range of ‘marginal’ workers (the unemployed, low-wage workers, and new immigrants), for whom access to economic resources, social welfare, and citizenship rights has become increasingly precarious. These processes of marginalization and exclusion have encouraged experimentation of all kinds, and this in turn has led to a proliferation of diverse economic strategies: remittance economies among migrants, common housing among immigrant male workers, periodic prostitution among female immigrants, women’s collectives to deal with the crisis of child care, urban squats as responses to inflated property markets, and urban gardening to increase access to food resources. It is, of course, also the case that these conditions of ‘precarity’ create new spaces and opportunities for violent economies of disruption and abuse—including criminal networks of money laundering, trafficking of women and children, Mafia protection racketeering, illegal immigration networks, and forced labor practices—that are emerging in many parts of Europe, not only in post-socialist countries. Alongside these are the new official economies of incarceration: the camps, deportation offices, walls and fences, and security companies to police the new Europe and define its collective existence in very physical ways. But it is also the case that in response to these gray and institutional practices, social movements throughout Europe have also begun to experiment with ways to reclaim different notions of the commons and in very fundamental ways redefine the nature of common property, particularly around the struggles over space, livelihoods, and basic rights.


John Pickles

The project of reclaiming the city by producing new common spaces and practices has been underway among the underclass for generations, but over the past decade the scale and scope of these reclamation efforts have been astonishing. Squatters have reclaimed empty public and private housing and, through their efforts, have begun to change the way in which even public authorities understand empty housing as common property. Public space, long privatized by either the state or the corporate world, is also under reclamation through these collective-action projects. And art collectives and other social movements are deploying installations, humor, and images, along with coordinated actions, to ‘open’ and ‘delete’ the borders of closed private and state spaces (see, e.g., Notes from Nowhere 2003). The Delete the Borders movement struggles against the Schengen fortressing of Europe to redefine the geographical spaces of interaction. The ‘open citizenship’ debates articulate a new, more expansive—even universal—notion of legal rights and a civic commons to which peoples of all national origins can lay claim, regardless of their origin and status. The movements of the ‘precariate’ signal new spatial and political possibilities of diverse social and economic practices. In all these ways, and many more, the meaning of the commons as an essential basis for social life is being reworked, and new spaces and practices are being produced (Cobarrubias 2005). Of course, the history of the struggle over the commons has also been riddled with class politics, and this is no less the case in the new Europe. For example, recent changes in Bulgarian property law have facilitated the ownership of land by foreigners, and in coastal and mountain areas Western Europeans (especially retirees) have begun to buy up what appear to them as remarkably cheap properties. In ‘favored’ locales, whole communities have emerged as major tourist sites or retirement villages, property prices

The ‘New Europe’


have boomed, and former residents may now be in the minority. In some cases, new residents are beginning to assert their own claims on the commons: village councils have been forced to zone out ‘nuisances’ such as animals and farm machinery, noisy festival celebrations have been banned, and community resources formerly spent on the upkeep of small rural roads and other infrastructure have been diverted to paving major highways and providing enhanced services in the central village. This is one of the lesser and perhaps more benign forms in which the contemporary projects of globalization and of Europe impinge on the meaning and practice of the commons. But it is no less indicative of the kind of restructuring of the public sphere currently underway in many parts of post-socialist and post-industrial Europe, producing in turn new geographies of citizenship and class. As Balibar (1999) asserts: “In reality, what is at stake here is the definition of the modes of inclusion and exclusion in the European sphere, as a ‘public sphere’ of bureaucracy and of relations of force but also of communication and cooperation between peoples. Consequently, in the strongest sense of the term, it is the possibility or the impossibility of European unification.”

The Universalism of ‘Europe’ and the Recomposition of ‘Society’ We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them reimposed at a European level, with a European super­state exercising a new dominance from Brussels … Certainly we want to see Europe more united and with a greater sense of common purpose. But it must be in a way which preserves the different traditions, Parliamentary powers and sense of national pride in one’s own country. (Thatcher 1998)


John Pickles

The project of Europe and the European Union was always a project of the commons, aimed at the construction of harmonized laws and norms and a common economy—a Common Economic Community, a Common Market. The irony that this ‘community’ of values was predicated on neo-liberal market models has not gone unnoticed and has created difficulties for those seeking community without society, as Thatcher had insisted (Dauphinée 2003; Smith, Pickles, and Begg 2004). For Bronislaw Geremek (2003: 1): “European integration had to start with the economy, but now its future depends on the European Union making a success of its efforts to give itself a political dimension. And it is now that the challenge arises that we can describe as cultural, although it goes beyond heritage or cultural policy. It is more about the big questions: where do we come from? where are we? where are we going?” Post-communist leaders have largely answered these questions in ways that are pragmatic, focused as they have often had to be on the exigencies of challenge or crisis. But as well as seeing their ‘return to Europe’ as a return to an interrupted process of economic and social development (democracy and capitalism), many in the region also see it as a return to a common cultural heritage—as a distinctly Christian European Union, as the Polish government argued during negotiations with Turkey over EU membership. But for others like Geremek (2005), the future of the European project depends on the construction of Europeans, with all the state institutions and apparatuses that such a project requires, from educational, cultural, and inter-regional exchange and training programs to the broader ideological work of identifying what constitutes this ‘European ideal’—an ideal that is not articulated in opposition to national identities of member states or predicated on models of inclusion and exclusion. As Strauss-Kahn (2004) sees it: “The community will be consolidated by the creation of a political Europe, and

The ‘New Europe’


will become the common property of the emerging European people. In this way, a political Europe and European identity each stimulate the growth of the other. But the principle is clear: there can be no political Europe without a European community of values; a political Europe cannot be created unless a European people emerges.” The project of ‘Europe’ is one that offers enormous promise for a different kind of future for many and poses serious questions for some: For whom does Europe offer promise? What kind of ‘common’ project is being and can be built? What kind of society is envisioned, and with what reach of civic rights and dignity? In Society Must Be Defended, Michel Foucault (2003) focused on the ways in which state sovereignty and a community of values emerged in an earlier project of European enlightenment. In this iteration, the meaning of collective identities such as citizenship, common property, the public, rule of law, the social contract, and democracy were bounded by the Westphalian territorial state and the nation it produced. Each was to be defended externally against enemies (by warfare) and internally against contested claims on the state and demands from its ‘public’ over what was to count as common resources and how universal values (such as sovereignty) were to be given substantive meaning (Arrighi 1997: 7). Those of us interested in collective projects with universal commitments (e.g., forms of open citizenship, borderless states, sustainable commons, and diverse economies) that are broader than those sustained by the tyranny of markets might look for the promise of the new Europe not in the institutionalization of Europeanism or in the forging of common European identities, but through the heightening of the contradictory nature of the project itself (see Bourdieu 1998, 2003). Founded on a set of deep neo-liberal political and economic commitments (and histories), this Europe both rejects collective


John Pickles

action and depends on it, refuses to see the economic possibilities of diverse economies but creates them at every turn (both legal and illegal), identifies the necessity for commonalities and universalism but both supports and strives to manage the diverse nationalisms and regionalisms within. Perhaps there is to be a ‘new Europe’, but it will be one that emerges in reaction to, not from, the colonial discourses of heroism predicated on individual prowess, competition, and private spaces. In the interstices of the European project, and fostered by it, counterpublics are emerging. Organized around commonalities of difference and respect, they do not ask for universal acknowledgement—just basic recognition and rights.

References Arrighi, Giovanni. 1997. “Globalization, State Sovereignty, and the ‘Endless’ Accumulation of Capital.” gairvn97.htm. Balibar, Etienne. 1999. “At the Borders of Europe.” Lecture delivered 4 October, on the invitation of the Institut Français de Thessalonique and the Department of Philosophy of Aristotle University of Thessaloníki. French text first published in Transeuropéennes 17 (1999–2000): 9–17. The translation of this essay, by Erin M. Williams, originally appeared under the title “World Borders, Political Borders,” PMLA 117 (2002): 71–78. ______. 2004. We, the People of Europe? Reflections on Transnational Citizenship. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Bourdieu, Pierre. 1998. Acts of Resistance: Against the Tyranny of Markets. New York: New Press. ______. 2003. Firing Back: Against the Tyranny of the Market 2. New York: New Press. Cobarrubias, Sebastian. 2005. “Critical Cartographies and New Economic Geographies: A Preview to a Manifesto for ‘Hacking Cartography.’” Paper presented to the “Geographies of the Multitude

The ‘New Europe’


Session,” Annual Conferences of the Association of American Geographers, Denver, 7–11 March. Dauphinée, Elizabeth. 2003. “Faith, Hope, Neoliberalism: Mapping Economies of Violence on the Margins of Europe.” Dialectical Anthropology 27, no. 3–4: 189–203. http:// F0020003/05146056. Derrida, Jacques. 1994. Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International. London: Routledge. Foucault, Michel. 2003. Society Must Be Defended. Trans. David Macey. London: Allen Lane. Fukuyama, Francis. 1989. “The End of History?” National Interest 16 (Summer). ______. 1992. The End of History and the Last Man. New York: Free Press. Geremek, Bronislaw. 2003. “Thinking about Europe as a Community.” July. http:// (accessed 15 January 2006). ______. 2005. “Education and Europe’s Integration Dilemmas.” Presentation to the European Association for International Education, 15 September, Kraków, Poland. Gowan, Peter. 1995. “Neo-liberal Theory and Practice for Eastern Europe.” New Left Review 213 (September/October): 3–60. ______. 1996. “Eastern Europe, Western Power, and Neo-liberalism.” New Left Review I/216 (March–April): 129–140. Hayek, Friedrich A. 1994. The Road to Serfdom. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Hekimova, Vesseline, Anna Karakovska, Mieke Meurs, and Rossitsa Stoyanova. 2004. “The Decline in Common Lands in Bulgaria in the Early 20th Century.” American University Department of Economics Working Paper No. 2004-10, October. http://www. american .edu/cas/econ/workingpapers/2004-10.pdf. Lenin, Vladimir I. [1899] 1967. The Development of Capitalism in Russia: The Process of the Formation of a Home Market for LargeScale Industry. Moscow: Moscow Publishers. Meurs, Mieke. 2001. The Evolution of Agrarian Institutions: A Comparative Study of Post-Socialist Hungary and Bulgaria. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.


John Pickles

______. 2002. “Economic Strategies of Surviving Post-Socialism: Changing Household Economies and Gender Divisions of Labour in the Bulgarian Transition.” Pp. 213–226 in Work, Employment and Transition: Restructuring Livelihoods in Post-Communism, ed. A. Rainnie, A. Smith, and A. Swain. London: Routledge. Meurs, Mieke, and Lisa Giddings. 2004. “The Demise of State Run Child Care in Bulgaria: Causes and Implications.” American University Department of Economics Working Paper 2004-04, June. Notes from Nowhere, ed. 2003. We Are Everywhere: The Irresistible Rise of Global Anti-capitalism. London: Verso. Pickles, John. 2005. “‘New Cartographies’ and the Decolonization of European Geographies.” Area 37, no. 4 (December): 355–364. Sachs, Jeffrey. 1995. “Why Russia Failed to Stabilize.” Pp. 53–62 in Russian Economic Reform at Risk, ed. A. Aslund. London: Pinter. Smith, Adrian, and Alison Stenning. 2006. “Beyond Household Economies: Articulations and Spaces of Economic Practice in Post-Socialism.” Progress in Human Geography 30, no. 2: 190–213. Smith, Adrian, John Pickles, and Robert Begg. 2004. “Response to the Commission of the European Communities Communication on ‘The Future of the Textiles and Clothing Sector in the Enlarged European Union’” (COM(2003) 649 final). http://www.geog.qmul Stark, David, and Lazlo Bruszt. 1998. Postsocialist Pathways: Transforming Politics and Property in East Central Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Strauss-Kahn, Dominique. 2004. “Building a Political Europe: 50 Proposals for Tomorrow’s Europe.” http://www.planet-thanet. Thatcher, Margaret. 1998. “Britain and Europe.” Speech to the Bruges Group, 20 September. Tismaneanu, Vladimir. 1999. “Reassessing the Revolutions of 1989.” Journal of Democracy 10, no. 1 (January): 69–73. Verdery, Katherine. 1996. What Was Socialism and What Comes Next? Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. World Bank. 1996. World Development Report 1996: From Plan to Market. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

‘The Commons’ in an Amazonian Context

7 Flora Lu

The tropical rainforest houses a wealth of both ecological and cultural diversity, and the species richness, ecosystem services, genetic wealth, and repository of indigenous and local environmental knowledge stored in this endangered region represent a global commons at risk. As articulated by Donald Nonini in the introduction to this volume, ‘the commons’ refers to those assemblages and ensembles of resources that human beings hold in common or in trust on behalf of themselves, other living human beings, and past and future generations of human beings, and that are essential to their biological, cultural, and social reproduction. In the Amazon, many ecological resources lend themselves to being held in a commons because of practical reasons, such as the difficulty of dividing them into smaller pieces (e.g., due to resource unpredictability, mobility, or the loss of ecological functioning if broken into pieces), and/or the costliness of excluding potential users. But social reasons and values foster the commu-


Flora Lu

nal management of resources as well: various commons exemplify shared identity, provide economic buffering, mitigate subsistence risk, foster cooperation and conflict resolution, and serve as a pillar in the edifice of societies supporting socialization and social reproduction. In this essay, I seek to highlight various roles and conceptions of ‘the commons’ with regard to Native Amazonian groups, specifically the populations with whom I have worked in northeastern Ecuador. Theories about the creation, maintenance, and management of communal resources offer insights into human/environment dynamics, and also provide a lens through which to scrutinize the current political-economic context, specifically biodiversity conservation policy.

The Commons as Culturally Embedded In an earlier article, I describe the common property regime of the Huaorani Indians of Amazonian Ecuador (Lu 2001). Resources held communally within a kin group or nanicabo include faunal populations, arable land, and non-timber forest products such as edible fruit or river clay used for ceramics. How Huaorani individuals relate to each other vis-à-vis these resources is through the common property management regime, a structured ownership arrangement. In this regime, the resource unit and its members are well delineated, management rules are developed, incentives exist for co-owners to follow accepted institutional arrangements, and sanctions work to ensure compliance. The characteristics of the Huaorani common property management regime make sense in light of the context in which it was developed: a situation of plentiful resources, low human population density, clear group membership, and effective social control through respect for kin and desire for good standing. What is remarkable about the regime is the subtlety with which rules are instituted. As

An Amazonian Context


part of the socialization process, young Huaorani learn about cultural boundaries, including the demarcation of social space between individuals and the types of items and resources one can take freely versus those for which permission must be asked. As these conventions and norms are embedded within the process of becoming Huaorani, they are not explicitly named rules but rather implicit understandings. For instance, resources held communally are ‘reduced’ to private property through creation, discovery, or capture. The faunal populations of the forest belong to an entire Huaorani village or user group, but if Namo kills an agouti, that rodent belongs to him. All arable land is held in common, but if Tipa clears a field and plants peach palm trees and manioc, these food sources are hers. Namo is likely to share the meat within the village, and Tipa will almost certainly agree to accompany anyone to harvest palm fruit or manioc tubers. The maintenance of good social relationships, the minimization of conflict, and the fostering of reciprocity—values central to Huaorani society—are reinforced through the property regime. The Huaorani example underscores one important characteristic of the commons: they are expressions of sociality. By holding resources in common, people establish duties and responsibilities to each other through conventions that are inextricably intertwined with cultural practices and beliefs. In this case study, implicit cultural understandings about spatial and social boundaries constitute the foundations for the common property regime.

Cross-Cultural Common Property The Huaorani example is just one of a diversity of forms of common property management regimes in Amazonia. Drawing from a cross-cultural study in northeastern Ecuador, Bremner and Lu (2006) describe the social organization of property among 36 communities belong-


Flora Lu

ing to the Shuar, Secoya, Quichua, Cofán, and Huaorani ethnic groups. Our data indicate that indigenous property regimes are far from the open-access situations that Garrett Hardin (1968) considered prone to the “tragedy of the commons.” Instead, there are clear ideas among the indigenous groups studied as to their vision of property rights. No individuals in the study reported legal individual title; all land title was held communally. Although land is uniformly held as a commons in these indigenous groups, there exists significant cultural and community variation. People’s conceptions of property varied inter- and intra-ethnically. The Huaorani conceive of their agricultural land as held in common, but both Secoya and Shuar have clear notions of possessing their own land despite communal land title. For the Secoya and Cofán, there is intra-ethnic variation in terms of conceptions of property rights as common or individual, but inter-community consistency, such that although people within the ethnicity vary, those within the same community generally share the same understanding. Out of the 36 communities in which surveys were collected, only a single Quichua community showed major discrepancies in how individual households conceive of land ownership. For the Huaorani, Quichua, and Shuar, the set of understandings about individual and communal use rights is shared at the level of ethnicity, whereas for the Secoya and Cofán, these shared understandings are at the level of the community. These different common property regimes suggest that within communities there are formal rules or informal norms that influence how households conceptualize use rights. As described above, the Huaorani report no formal rules related to the management of common-pool resources, although I describe informal norms that dictate management (Lu 2001). This is not the case with the other indigenous groups. The Secoya appear to have formalized

An Amazonian Context


rules with regard to agricultural lands, hunting, and fishing. This group divides the community into personal plots and a single large communal area. Hunting is permitted only in communal areas and in personal lands, or may be permitted on someone else’s land with permission. Fishing regulations include the banning of barbasco (plantderived fish poison), chemicals, and dynamite. The Shuar, in contrast, appear to have few regulations related to communally held resources. Hunting is permitted throughout the community and can be practiced on anyone’s land. The sole fishing regulation is the banning of barbasco. In some cases, the common property regime establishes formal access and exclusion rights yet relies upon informal understandings for management, while other communities have formal regulations that establish management rights. Additionally, as these examples illustrate, common property regimes differ greatly depending on the resource. People have clear ideas about the resource regimes to which they belong and the rights conferred by those institutions. They interface with specific resources and other resource users in diverse ways that likely reflect histories of settlement and contact, cultural values, interactions with the larger society, demographic pressures, and economic patterns. Thus, the commons are not romanticized relics of the past but rather dynamic contemporary institutions that act and react to current challenges and opportunities.

Conservation and the Commons The notion of the commons is also important in the Native Amazonian context because it emphasizes that conservation is fundamentally a social process. Scholars working in the realm of common property theory have made substantial strides in understanding the factors that can foster or undermine the emergence and viability of social arrangements for maintaining the commons (see review in


Flora Lu

Agrawal 2002). They have studied conservation as a form of collective action in which a clearly defined group of resource users coordinate and regulate their resource use. Without social guarantees and sanctions that deter cheating and ‘free riding’, the restraint and investment required for stewardship would not be viable. In other words, conservation is a set of social understandings and behavioral patterns that can emerge when there is an agreement by a group of people to temper their resource use in the expectation that others will do the same (Holt 2005). A common property theory lens can illuminate human/ environment dynamics. For example, going back to the Huaorani case study earlier, one can ask whether the common property regime of the Huaorani fosters conservation. I argue that besides “epiphenomenal conservation” (Alvard 1993, 1995), it does not. And the reason is because it does not have to. The Huaorani common property regime is an elegant and simple system for the task at hand, which is to minimize social conflict and maintain social harmony. People are not going to devise regimes that are more complicated than necessary, because developing these social arrangements involves effort and energy to reach consensus among members about needed actions, to monitor resource conditions, and to identify and punish cheaters, among other such tasks. Thus, the implementation and maintenance procedures of a functioning common property regime that will regulate resource use and promote conservation have to be deemed worthwhile. At a minimum, people need to recognize that a resource is becoming scarce, that their exploitation of the resource is having deleterious consequences, that the resource is of importance to their survival and well-being, and that they have the capability to regulate their use so that the overexploitation can be remedied. Historically, the Huaorani have had such low population densities and have defended such a large territory that they have not yet encountered resource

An Amazonian Context


scarcity. Instead, they have a perception of “natural abundance”—a belief that the forest that has always provided for them will always continue to do so (Rival 1992). However, the Huaorani’s perception of natural plenty is increasingly being challenged by the ecological destruction resulting from colonization, agri-businesses, and multinational corporate petroleum extraction, and by the land circumscription and limits to resource use patterns that are being imposed on indigenous communities in the name of national parks and conservation. Here I will specifically address biodiversity conservation; in other works I refer to logging (Lu 2001) and petroleum extraction (Lu and Carse n.d.). One threat to the Huaorani commons is posed by Western scientists who advocate conservation through top-down, exclusionary methods of extracting humans from nature. Wilshusen et al. (2002) have described a “resurgent protectionist” stance among conservation biologists and ecologists (e.g., John Terborgh, John Oates, Randall Kramer, Katrina Brandon, and Kent Redford, among others) who, in response to failures of earlier people-oriented approaches to conservation, argue for a return to strict protection of ecological areas through a focus on protected areas and authoritarian enforcement practices. One of the main tenets of resurgent protectionism is that “harmonious, ecologically friendly local communities are myths” (Wilshusen et al. 2002: 21). This view is articulated by Kramer and van Schaik (1997: 6–7): [I]t is often claimed that forest resources would be well managed if only the traditional users were allowed to maintain control. It is, indeed, widely believed that traditional communities use their resources in a sustainable manner. This belief is based on the fact that traditional communities lived at low densities, had limited technology, and practiced subsistence rather than commercial utilization. Unfortunately, given growing population pressure,


Flora Lu

increased access to modern technology, increasing market orientation, and steady erosion of traditional cultures, there no longer are guarantees that biodiversity objectives will be any more likely to be achieved if resource control is placed in the hands of indigenous peoples.

This rhetoric ascribes conservationist ethics to people in a state of limited technology, subsistence production, and low population pressure, and conversely views people as disinclined toward conservation when they have modern technologies, market involvement, and higher population densities. Resurgent protectionists argue that because so few ecologically innocuous populations remain, we cannot rely on human populations to be benign to nature; thus, bureaucratic conservation measures are required to keep people out. Terborgh (1999) is straightforward about the policy implications of this notion that local communities cannot be trusted with nature conservancy. He calls for the “political courage” to establish “a carefully constructed and voluntary relocation program” for “contacted indigenous groups” (ibid.: 56), so that these people can acquire goods, educate their children, and participate in the market economy. Not only is this position morally problematic, socially unjust, and logistically infeasible, it also contradicts what we know from common property theory about the emergence of conservation. As discussed above, conservation develops as a result of experiences and learning, sparked by negative changes in resource characteristics that are accompanied by a belief in the efficacy to remedy these changes and the social and political institutions to do so. When pressure on a resource is low due to a small number of users, limited procurement technologies, and subsistence production, there is little incentive for the development of the coordinated resource use behaviors and restraint that characterize conservation. In other

An Amazonian Context


words, the conditions under which people are seen as ecologically friendly in the protectionists’ viewpoint are the same conditions under which we would not expect conservation to develop. But when people are faced with a situation that may promote resource stewardship (such as increased population pressure or resource exploitation for market), the protectionists then perceive these indigenous groups as obstacles to conservation. This contradiction is what I have termed the “conservation Catch-22.” As I state in a recent article (Holt 2005: 209): At this critical juncture, where conservation biologists and ecologists have a marvelous potential for collaborating with local communities facing changing resource availabilities and ecological threats, the resurgent protectionist rhetoric says that instead of working to develop management plans, we should build fortified fences; instead of incorporating locals as parabiologists with much ecological knowledge, we should relocate them from sensitive ecological areas. Thus, through exclusionary practices advocated by resurgent protectionists, people like the Huaorani are denied much more than the assistance that influential and knowledgeable biologists could bring: they lose the opportunity to adapt their resource use institutions to reflect current challenges. Locals are caught in a conservation Catch-22, and as they broaden their economic activities and technologies for survival in changing circumstances, this is taken as evidence they have lost their “natural conservationist” tendencies.

As a case in point, Vickers (1994) discusses the transition from “opportunism to nascent conservation” among the Siona and Secoya of the Ecuadorian Amazon. Vickers shows that Siona and Secoya hunting reflects a pattern of exploitation predicted by optimal foraging theory in which hunters are attempting to maximize short-term yields rather than trying to conserve. The sustainability


Flora Lu

of indigenous hunting in this case was epiphenomenal, a result of low human population density, dispersed human settlements within large hunting territories, human mobility, and limited hunting technology. However, beginning in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Siona and Secoya territory became increasingly circumscribed by colonization, petroleum exploitation, protected area establishment, and African palm plantations. Because of the reduction in foraging territory and increasing human population density, Siona and Secoya households became more involved in new economic strategies, such as wage labor, cash cropping, livestock raising, and logging. In light of these changes, a resurgent protectionist approach would view these indigenous people as threats to biodiversity conservation, whereas Vickers shows that the Siona and Secoya responded to these incursions into their territory by becoming more interested and active in environmental protection. They organized themselves into an indigenous federation, worked with government agencies and nongovernmental organizations to seek legal recognition of their land rights, exposed the chemical runoff generated from an African palm plantation, and joined a class-action lawsuit against Texaco for decades of contamination from oil activities in eastern Ecuador. Vickers reminds us that conservation “is not a state of being. It is a response to people’s perceptions about the state of their environment and its resources, and a willingness to modify their behaviors to adjust to new realities” (ibid.: 331). To summarize, then, the idea of the commons in Native Amazonian studies warrants further attention, as communally held resources are critical to indigenous subsistence, and common property regimes can represent important expressions of sociality and cultural values. Without an understanding of the processes by which people develop communal management of ecological resources, we have an incomplete picture of the human/environ-

An Amazonian Context


ment interrelationship, and such gaps in our knowledge can result in ineffective policies for conservation.

Acknowledgments Funding for the research presented was provided by the National Institutes of Health (R01-38777-01), National Science Foundation (SBR-9603008), Inter-American Foundation, Sigma Xi, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I would like to thank Donald Nonini, the Ecuador Project Team at the Carolina Population Center, Simon Barrett, Paul Leslie, and most of all the indigenous communities and federations who so generously assisted with the research.

References Agrawal, Arun. 2002. “Common Resources and Institutional Stability.” Pp. 41–85 in The Drama of the Commons, ed. Elinor Ostrom, Thomas Dietz, Nives Dolšak, Paul C. Stern, Susan Stonich, and Elke U. Weber. Washington DC: National Academy Press. Alvard, Michael. 1993. “Testing the ‘Ecologically Noble Savage’ Hypothesis.” Human Ecology 21: 355–387. ______. 1995. “Intraspecific Prey Choice by Amazonian Hunters.” Current Anthropology 36: 789–818. Bremner, Jason, and Flora Lu. 2006. “Common Property among Indigenous Peoples of the Ecuadorian Amazon.” Conservation and Society 44 (4): 499-521. Hardin, Garrett. 1968. “The Tragedy of the Commons.” Science 162: 1243–1248. Holt, Flora L. 2005. “The Catch-22 of Conservation: Indigenous Peoples, Biologists and Culture Change.” Human Ecology 33: 199–215.


Flora Lu

Kramer, Randall A., and Carl P. van Schaik. 1997. “Preservation Paradigms and Tropical Rain Forests.” Pp. 3–14 in Last Stand: Protected Areas and the Defense of Tropical Biodiversity, ed. Randall A. Kramer, Carl P. van Schaik, and Julie Johnson. New York: Oxford University Press. Lu, Flora E. 2001. “The Common Property Regime of the Huaorani Indians of Ecuador: Implications and Challenges to Conservation.” Human Ecology 29: 425–447. Lu, Flora, and Ashley Carse. n.d. “The Impact of Petroleum Development on Food Sharing and Sociality.” Chapel Hill, NC: Anthropology Department, University of North Carolina. Rival, Laura M. 1992. “Social Transformations and the Impact of Formal Schooling on the Huaorani of Amazonian Ecuador.” PhD diss., University of London. Terborgh, John. 1999. Requiem for Nature. Washington, DC: Island Press/Shearwater Books. Vickers, William T. 1994. “From Opportunism to Nascent Conservation.” Human Nature 5: 307–337. Wilshusen, Peter R., Steven R. Brechin, Crystal L. Fortwangler, and Patrick C. West. 2002. “Reinventing a Square Wheel: Critique of a Resurgent ‘Protection Paradigm’ in International Biodiversity Conservation.” Society and Natural Resources 15: 17–40.

The Genetic Commons Resisting the Neo-liberal Enclosure of Life

f Stephen B. Scharper and Hilary Cunningham

The notion of a ‘genetic commons’ is a broad-based, multi-faceted response to a particular constellation of technological, cultural, economic, political, ethical, and legal developments of the past three decades. Prompted principally by advances in biotechnology and the heretofore unprecedented patenting of life forms, the genetic commons movement seeks to critique and resist the commodification and commercialization of ‘nature’ and to establish a cosmological and political space outside of, and protected from, neo-liberal capitalist processes. In this article we provide a brief overview of the development of biotechnology and the subsequent patenting of genetic material, showing how these developments are embedded in a neo-liberal globalized economic milieu and thus raising serious issues of social justice, ecology, and ethics. We examine some of the contours of this movement— composed of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), civil society groups, and nations of the South—and their


Stephen B. Scharper and Hilary Cunningham

attempts to restore the genetic commons through a redefinition of state sovereignty and international activism.

The Provenance of the ‘Biotech Boom’ The expansion of recombinant DNA techniques in the mid1970s was a signal development in the field of genomics and, along with new genetic sequencing technologies, has been largely responsible for the ‘biotech boom’ of the last three decades. Biomolecular engineering has allowed scientists to isolate and scrutinize single genes, thereby making possible the alteration of genetic material and its transfer from one organism to another. These particular technologies, and many subsequent ones, have thus given genes and the ‘information’ they express a new mobility within and across species. Genes, it might be said, are on the move in the new biological era. Not only are they transforming fruits, vegetables, livestock, and potentially human beings in sundry ways, they are also caught up in the swift currents of twenty-first century capitalism, marked by neo-liberal free-trade accords, which favor large corporations, and an increasing divide between rich and poor, both between and within nations. Many proponents of biotechnology argue that this technology will benefit all of humankind, both by making the production of food more efficient and stable and by providing for better diagnosis and treatment of diseases. Such altruistic claims, however, can belie the relationship between biotechnological advances and the field’s deep roots in atomic research (Beatty 2000) and its connections to profit-driven agricultural, medical, and pharmaceutical industries. In 1990, the United States embarked upon a $3 billion effort to map the human genome with the dual purposes of establishing an international claim to this first ‘map’ and of giving an edge to private US biotech businesses in the burgeoning and competitive ‘life industries’. Over the

The Genetic Commons


1990s, more and more genes and their various components were isolated, identified, and absorbed into the market as commodities. In the United States, which has spearheaded the capitalization of genetic research, the commercialization of genetics has been facilitated through intellectual property regimes. Currently, there are many different kinds of genetic materials that are privately owned and protected through patents (including micro-organisms, gene sequences, cell lines, and genetically modified plants and animals). Patents grant protections to inventors and prevent others from using their inventions, starting from the date of issue and extending for a number of years; in the United States, a patent is usually granted for 20 years. Products found in nature are not considered to be patentable in the United States, but in 1987 the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) argued that matter given “a new form, quality, properties or a combination not present in the original article” is legitimately subject to patent.1 As a result, certain processes (especially those related to production and diagnostics) and products of research (such as enzymes, proteins, cell lines, and genetic sequences) can be patented as inventions. Prior to 1980, micro-organisms were considered to be outside of patenting jurisdictions because they were viewed as part of nature. However, this principle radically changed in 1980 when the US Supreme Court ruled (by a margin of five to four) in Diamond vs. Chakrabarty that a bioengineered bacterium was patentable because it was human-made. Since 1987, over 460 patents have been issued on animals, including the 1988 US patent granted to the Harvard Oncomouse, a creature genetically engineered to be susceptible to carcinogens and used in medical research.2 Additionally, in a landmark decision in 1984, a patent was granted on a cell line of US businessman John Moore to the doctors who had removed his cancerous spleen.3


Stephen B. Scharper and Hilary Cunningham

Patents as ‘Enclosures’ Developments in biotechnology have ignited some of the most serious and sustained ethical debates of recent decades, encompassing heated discussions about the nature of life and human freedom (Boyle 2003), the social implications of cloning and commodification of the body (P. Cunningham 2003; Everett 2003), social-justice concerns between nations of the North and South (Safrin 2004), and the unknown health-related impacts of genetically modified foods. The patenting of life forms, however, and the extraction of biological resources by large transnational corporations conducting research in poorer nations (inciting charges of ‘biocolonialism’) are issues that directly address the growth of corporate and commercial control over biotechnology and the concentration of genetic capital in an increasingly smaller number of large private companies. Corporations clearly dominate the field of biotech patents.4 Not surprisingly, this concentration reveals an uneven North-South dynamic: of all the biotech patents granted worldwide, 90 percent are held by Northern concerns. In addition, the kinds of patents that are being granted to Northern corporations (many of which are ‘gatekeeper’ patents)5 will make any future research and development difficult and expensive for Southern nations, thus ensuring that although Southern nations may be rich in genetic resources, the biotechnologies that are developed will be controlled by and profitable for Northern-based corporations and governments for many years ahead. There is also considerable pressure for less-developed nations to sign on to existing patenting laws through global trade agreements. Such accords not only reinforce the North-South dynamic already in place but also have the potential to affect adversely poor farmers the most (especially those who save their own seeds) and jeopardize the populations they feed—approximately 1.4

The Genetic Commons


billion people or 22 percent of the world’s population (Steinbrecher and Mooney 1988: 276). It is also feared that by marginalizing small- to medium-scale farmers, biotech corporations will dominate the availability of seeds. Because little will be offered for sale other than patented varieties, farmers will be forced to buy protected varieties, which in turn will carry prohibitions against breeding animals and seeds for their own use. Similar concerns about the effects of genetic enclosures have been raised in the field of medical therapies and have focused on how trade-related intellectual properties stratify accessibility to drugs and diagnostic tests. The widespread use, for example, of generic (therefore less expensive) drugs in less-developed nations (where 95 percent of all people with HIV/AIDS live) is being contested by large pharmaceutical firms because such practices undermine company profits. In one controversial case, a Utah-based firm, Myriad Genetics, which holds a patent on two cancer-susceptibility genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2) and exclusive rights to testing for these genes, requested that the Canadian government route all of its BRCA1 and BRCA2 tests to the company’s lab in Salt Lake City, Utah, or to one of its designated licensees. Given that the costs of Myriad’s tests are three times the cost of Canadian tests, questions of access and fairness arise. Consequently, many critics of biotechnology view intellectual property rights (IPRs) as a form of encirclement or enclosure that privatizes and subjects the natural world (presumably belonging to all humans) to private ownership and control by the wealthy. As a result, opponents to biotech patenting often draw analogies between the commercialization of genetics and the enclosure laws that characterized eighteenth-century England when, in helping to create the precursor conditions for the Industrial Revolution, Parliament consolidated community lands into larger holdings and revoked indigent farmers’ rights to gleaning,


Stephen B. Scharper and Hilary Cunningham

thereby creating a large group of landless poor who became a source of cheap labor for the emerging factory system. Particularly vulnerable within this system of enclosures today are small- to medium-scale farmers and indigenous communities who not only experience the loss of livelihood but the theft of their traditional knowledge (sometimes referred to by critics as a practice of ‘biopiracy’).6 Some critics of genetic patenting also argue that the current structure of IPRs also generates a form of what has been called ‘bioserfdom’, particularly for farmers in Southern nations who become forced into a permanent dependence on patented seeds (see Herdt 1999; Shiva 2002b). Such a dependence also subjects farmers to a set of further enclosures, including both the technological “fences” (Svatos 2000: 849) that are being incorporated into genetically modified seed production and the gene policing practices adopted by large corporations. Monsanto, for example, recently developed a ‘terminator’ seed that is designed to protect the company from illicit use of its seeds. The company also includes in many of its contracts a clause that allows company agents to inspect farmers’ fields for company varieties.7

Contours of the ‘Genetic Commons’ Movement Many opponents of biogenetic patenting view genetic material as the common inheritance of humankind, which they themselves do not want to privatize or see enclosed by others (DeVille 2004).8 Instead, they view the earth’s genetic material as a common inheritance that should be held in trust for a common future. The enclosure of the ‘genetic commons’ through neo-liberal patenting regimens subverts existing notions of the commons because it claims a deeper stratum, not of land boundaries but of soil components, not of ancestry and lineage but of genetic material itself.

The Genetic Commons


Incensed that medicinals and crops initially developed in their nations are now patented by transnational corporations (or the US government, which went so far as to try to patent a cell line of a Hagahai man from Papua New Guinea) (see Scharper and Cunningham 1996), genetic commons advocates claim that such issues raise concerns of national self-determination, global justice, and a sense of a global common good (Svatos 2000). While patent advocates claim that indigenous groups, peasants, smallscale farmers, fisherfolk, forest dwellers, pastoralists, and other traditional communities and governments of nations of the South who support a genetic commons should ‘get with the program’ and patent their genetic material, these groups respond that even if they had the financial and legal resources to do so, this practice runs counter to their moral position that such material should be available for the good of all. In this, the question of the genetic commons becomes not simply a legal or technical issue, but a philosophical and cosmological concern, bringing into focus just precisely what is held to be of common value and what is ultimately not for sale. These latter metaphysical questions are of particular concern for the religious groups engaged in genetic commons advocacy (Hermerén 2000; Shiva 2002a).9

Attempts at Recovering the Commons The genetic commons movement has challenged the neo-liberal enclosures of genetic material in a variety of ways, including proposed treaties that NGOs and civil society groups seek to have ratified within their nations of origin. One of these is the Treaty to Share the Genetic Commons, launched in February 2002 at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Supported by hundreds of NGOs and over 50 nations, the treaty attempts to establish the gene pool as a global commons and thus prohibit all patents on plant, micro-organism, animal, and human


Stephen B. Scharper and Hilary Cunningham

life. In addition, the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (also known as the International Seed Treaty), which took effect in June 2004 under the auspices of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN (FAO), aims to ensure that the agricultural biodiversity of crops nurtured by farmers over several millennia is preserved and that there is fair-benefit sharing from its sustainable use. However, claims by UK and EU representatives that the treaty allows for the privatization of certain genetic material have engendered strong criticism from advocates of the genetic commons. Such difficulties with UN-sponsored treaties have prompted some advocates, such as Vandana Shiva, to argue that the recovery of the commons also necessitates the “re-invention of state sovereignty.” Shiva (2002a) suggests redesigning the state to render it accountable to the people, and not mainly international trading arrangements, and ensuring that the rights of communities, such as indigenous groups, pastoralists, etc., have as much say as corporations in determining the fate of the genetic commons within their national boundaries. Shiva points to the 1996 Panchayats Act in India, which for the first time in India’s history allows a tribe to have community rights over its own community resources, including genetic resources, countering a colonial ‘openaccess’ judicial arrangement that allowed for the foreign exploitation of local resources (ibid.). Many in the global genetic commons movement are pressing for similar legislative initiatives within their own countries and for similar precedents to be adopted by international treaties.

Concluding Remarks As the inauguration and proliferation of life form patents suggests, the questions of biopatenting are deeply related to the entrepreneurial and technological culture of the

The Genetic Commons


United States. One could argue that it was no accident that the US was the first to patent a micro-organism in 1980 and extend property rights to all life forms (including animals) in 1987. It is perhaps not coincidental that the World Trade Organization, under US prodding and influence, has advanced laws in other nations with the aim of patenting life. Such a promulgation and advancement of biotechnology and biopatenting might be the fruit of the unique and often unfettered US embrace of technology, as pointed out by such technology critics as George Grant and Neil Postman. The latter claims that the United States is a ‘technopoly’, whose shibboleth is “if it can be done, it should be done,” and thus places the fewest restrictions on new technologies of any industrialized nation. In this way, the biotech advocacy of the US mirrors the modernization theories of the 1960s, whereby Southern nations were encouraged to adopt a ‘modern’ approach to economic and social life so that they could ‘develop’ just like their Northern prototypes. Biopatenting within the neo-liberal framework, however, adds a new twist to the modernization discourses. The enclosures operate in such a manner as to privilege the accumulation of capital as the ultimate barometer of progress. Unlike previous Northern stratagems for Southern development that claimed a desire to ‘raise all boats’, the neo-liberal enclosure agenda almost unabashedly celebrates ‘the raising of all yachts’.


Stephen B. Scharper and Hilary Cunningham

Notes 1. USPTO Commissioner D. J. Quigg, Ex Parte Allen, 7 April 1987, quoted in Svatos (2000: 845). 2. The Oncomouse patent has been recognized in both in Europe and Japan, but in December 2002, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled five to four against the patent by declaring that mice and other ‘higher’ animals could not, under Canadian law, be regarded as ‘patentable machines’, as the DuPont company lawyers had argued. 3. As of 2004, there were 11,411 plant-related patents, of which 6,183 or 54 percent are of US origin. In the United States, patent protection for plants began in 1930 with the Plant Patent Act, which covered plants that reproduce asexually (e.g., through clippings or vines). It was followed by a broader Plant Variety Protection Act in 1970. Currently, plant breeders use both the variety and patent protections for genetically modified plant organisms and genes (US Patent and Trademark Office 2004). 4. In October 2005, for example, the journal Science published the results of a study showing that of the 23,688 human genes in the US public database, 4,382 (18.5 percent) were claimed as intellectual property. The patents are held by 1,156 institutions or inventors, and approximately 64 percent of these are private companies. Incyte, a California-based drug company, holds the highest number, with its patents covering 2,000 human genes. 5. Gatekeeper patents cover a first discovery in a class of related discoveries. Such patents can create serious obstacles for researchers because they are usually broad in scope and can give the holder undue control over future research. 6. This is a term coined by the Rural Advancement Foundation International (now the ETC Group) in 1993. For a variety of perspectives on indigenous knowledge and biopatenting, see also ETC Group (2004a), Amani and Coombe (2005), Brown (2003), H. Cunningham (1998), Faye (2004), and Spier (2001). 7. More stringent provisions are also being directed at farmers in Northern nations. In 2004, for example, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled against Saskatchewan farmers Percy and Louise Schmeiser by placing the burden on the farmer to prove that she or he is not in infringement of a company’s monopoly patent (ETC Group 2004b).

The Genetic Commons


8. The ETC Group (2004a) provides a helpful overview of the goals of many in the genetic commons movement who discern value in the benefits of the free sharing of genetic materials versus their commercialization: “The issue is that the real ‘benefit sharing’—to the benefit of humankind—has been practiced for millennia by the ‘biodiversity actors:’ [indigenous groups, pastoralists, farmers, etc.] All agriculture and health care systems are based on their past and present contributions, which, in turn, have been based on reciprocity, on free flows of exchange of resources and knowledge among peoples, between communities, regions and across the world. The process is not comparable to a commercial transaction. Rather, it is based on the collective and intergenerational nurturing and development of biodiversity. This is what has to be protected and maintained along with peoples’ social, economic, cultural and political rights. Protection is not about paying fees as compensation, but about respecting and restoring the right to land, territory, resources, identity, and diversity and about ending the privatization and monopoly of resources through [international patents] new technologies or other enclosures.” 9. Religious groups are among the growing chorus speaking on behalf of a genetic commons. In 1995, for example, under the auspices of the Foundation on Economic Trends, a coalition of over 200 religious leaders—heads of Protestant churches, a hundred Roman Catholic bishops, as well as Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu representatives—declared their opposition to the granting of patents on human and animal genes, tissues, organs, and organisms. According to Jeremy Rifkin, this was the largest gathering of US religious leaders on a concern of mutual interest in the twentieth century. The leaders noted that the patenting of life signaled the gravest challenge to the idea of divine creation in history. “Either life is God’s creation or a human invention, but it can’t be both,” Rifkin (1998: 65–66) writes. “[T]he religious leaders … are unanimous in their opposition to the patenting of the life forms and the parts themselves. They are keenly aware of the profound consequences of shifting authorship from God to scientists and transnational companies and are determined to hold the line against any attempt by ‘man’ to stake his own claim as the prime mover and sovereign architect of life on Earth.”


Stephen B. Scharper and Hilary Cunningham

References Amani, Bita, and Rosemary J. Coombe. 2005. “The Human Genome Diversity Project: The Politics of Patents at the Intersection of Race, Religion, and Research Ethics.” Law & Policy 27, no. 1: 152–188. Beatty, John. 2000. “Origins of the U.S. Human Genome Project: The Changing Relationships Between Genetics and National Security.” Pp. 131–153 in Controlling Our Destinies: Historical, Philosophical, Ethical and Theological Perspectives on the Human Genome Project, ed. Phillip R. Sloan. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press. Boyle, James. 2003. “Enclosing the Genome: What Squabbles over Genetic Patents Could Teach Us.” Creative Commons. http:// Brown, Michael F. 2003. Who Owns Native Culture? Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Cunningham, Hilary. 1998. “Patenting the Primitive: Colonial Encounters in Post-Colonial Contexts.” Critique of Anthropology 18, no. 2: 205–233. Cunningham, Paige C. 2003. “Is It Right or Is It Useful? Patenting of the Human Gene, Lockean Property Rights, and the Erosion of the Imago Dei.” Ethics and Medicine 19, no. 2: 85–98. DeVille, Kenneth A. 2004. “Commercialism in Scientific Research.” Pp. 471–476 in Encyclopedia of Bioethics, vol. 1, 3rd ed., ed. Stephen Post. New York: Thomson Gale Publishers. ETC Group. 2004a. “From Global Enclosure to Self Enclosure, Ten Years After: A Critique of the CBD and the ‘Bonn Guidelines’ on Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS).” Communiqué in January/ February issue, no. 83. ______. 2004b. “Canadian Supreme Court Tramples Farmer’s Rights—Affirms Corporate Monopoly on Higher Life Forms.” News release, 21 May. Everett, Margaret. 2003. “The Social Life of Genes: Privacy, Property and the New Genetics.” Social Science and Medicine 56, no. 1: 53–65. Faye, David J. 2004. “Bioprospecting, Genetic Patenting and Indigenous Populations: Challenges Under a Restructured Information Commons.” Journal of World Intellectual Property 7, no. 3: 401–428.

The Genetic Commons


Herdt, Robert W. 1999. “Enclosing the Global Plant Genetic Commons.” Paper prepared for delivery at the China Center for Economic Research, 24 May. Library/Enclosing_the_Global_Plant_Genetic_Commons.pdf. Hermerén, Göran. 2000. “Patents, Licensing, Ethics, International Controversies.” Pp. 817–825 in Murray and Mehlman 2000. Murray, Thomas H., and Maxwell J. Mehlman, eds. 2000. Encyclopedia of Ethical, Legal, and Policy Issues in Biotechnology. Vol. 2. New York: John Wiley & Sons. Rifkin, Jeremy. 1998: The Biotech Century: Harnessing the Gene and Remaking the World. New York: Penguin Putnam. Safrin, Sabrina. 2004. “Hyperownership in a Time of Biotechnological Promise: The International Conflict to Control the Building Blocks of Life.” American Journal of International Law 98, no. 4: 641–685. Scharper, Stephen, and Hilary Cunningham. 1996. “Patenting the Primitive: Reflections on the Human Genome Project.” Third World Resurgence 65/66: 2–5. Shiva, Vandana. 2002a. “The Enclosure and Recovery of the Biological and Intellectual Commons.” Pp. 675–684 in Institutionalizing Common Pool Resources, ed. D. K. Marothia. New Delhi: Concept. ______. 2002b. Protect or Plunder? Understanding Intellectual Property Works. Boston: Zed Books. Spier, Victoria E. 2001. “Finders’ Keepers: The Dispute Between Developed and Developing Countries over Ownership of Property Rights in Genetic Material.” Widener Law Symposium Journal 7: 203–226. Steinbrecher, Ricarda A., and Pat R. Mooney. 1988. “Terminator Technology.” Ecologist 28, no. 4: 276–279. Svatos, Michelle. 2000. “Patents and Licensing, Ethics, Ownership of Animals, and Plant Genes.” Pp. 844–854 in Murray and Mehlman 2000. US Patent and Trademark Office. 2004. “Plant Patents Report.” http://www.uspto/gov/web/offices/ac/ido/oeip/taf/plant.htm#PartA1_1.

Reflections on Intellectual Commons

7 Donald M. Nonini

Acknowledging Gifts, Recognizing Debts Marilyn Strathern, in her collection of essays, Commons and Borderlands (2004: 39–40), reflects on interdisciplinary research collaboration and its products in the contemporary British university setting. She points to two opposed pressures on such research. One, seeking “undivided outcomes,” comes from those engaged in interdisciplinary research who see “an object held in common, the joint product, multi-authored, of diverse efforts.” The other comes from those determined to attribute “ownership” as a matter of “undivided origins” to an individual “owner” of the object—its presumed creator—who can be uniquely identified and appropriately awarded, often with legal intellectual property rights in the form of patents or copyrights. While the perspective of researchers connected to the former impetus is one in which several researchers see themselves as bringing their

The Intellectual Commons


complementary knowledges to bear in an “orientation to a joint project (‘problem solving’, etc.) [which] takes precedence” (ibid.: 48n4), that of the latter requires that they parse out origins to specify how “collaboration can be unpicked to identify the individual person, or the individual team, with whom the origin rests undivided” (ibid.: 40). Both pressures are, in the case of the British academy, very recent. Calls for interdisciplinary research have been articulated over the same period of the past two decades during which new property claims have been made— by universities, by ‘society’, and by for-profit corporations—on intellectual creations in the university milieu. Strathern asks us to consider how complexly and tensely constituted such processes of intellectual authorship are by thinking about the concept of ‘the commons’. This is to think “on images of freely available circulation of knowledge for all, notwithstanding the fact that there is never any terra nullus, that inventions are always in part re-invention, and thus always someone else’s as well. Yet they may require novel forms of expression. Discovery and inventions (in the sense of fiction) are uneasy allies” (Strathern 2004: 40). If discovery (finding what is already there but which came from others) and inventions (creations of something new by a unique ‘author’ or ‘inventor’) are so closely allied—indeed, often inseparable—in scientific collaboration, then ambiguity and contention about what one has given another and what the other owes as debt for it places us squarely within the cultural politics of ‘the gift’ under specific social and historical conditions. Should a gift be acknowledged along with the debt it creates? Or should the giving be denied and any idea of debt repudiated? Interdisciplinary collaboration in the ways that Strathern sketches it out is paradigmatic more generally of social life under contemporary capitalism. When people cooperate in scientific or intellectual production, distributed as they are by capitalism’s internal relations (e.g.,


Donald M. Nonini

labor vs. capital, mental labor vs. manual labor, West vs. the rest), these three questions become salient: What are the gifts? What are the debts that giving incurs? How is a gift to be requited? Capitalism, of course, has its own very clear account on this score: if a debt can be monetized or commodified in the contract form between market actors, then it exists, but all else is moot and for all practical purposes does not exist. Feminist theory, to mention just one contrary view, holds that debts arising from gifts of labor during social reproduction such as child rearing and maintaining a household, which tend to be gender-specific, whether or not they are monetized in wage-labor contracts (e.g., with nannies), can never be repudiated (Folbre 2001). Social interdependencies and the debts they create between people are always ‘on’. In contrast to capitalism’s ontological denial of the prestation of gifts inherent to social life and of the social debts they create, let me provide another example from Strathern’s (2004: 61) analysis: Not long ago I had a letter from a good friend and knowledge-expert from Mt. Hagen, Papua New Guinea, a significant ‘field’ for my researches since 1964, who posed a question to me. It was addressed in an indirect, elliptical way. When a woman goes in marriage to another clan, and bears many children for that clan, the writer asked, will her in-laws think on the kin from which she came? When someone plants a seedling, and that seedling grows into a tree, and the tree bears much fruit, will the eater of the fruit think on the person who planted the seedling? ‘Thinking on’ is an orientation to another person that is meant to summon all the strands of obligation and mutual acknowledgement/recompense that put people into one another’s debt.

Strathern makes clear that implicit referents—gifts of intellectual property and the debts they create—were

The Intellectual Commons


precisely what her informant had in mind. What were the gifts? All the accumulated knowledge she had acquired from her Mt. Hagen friend. But if these were gifts and not something sold through a market contract—and this body of knowledge was clearly not—then what does Strathern owe in return, and also what did she own? Strathern (ibid.) goes on: “The question he was putting in front of me was the question of responsibility, of moral authorship, if you like. The question was of equitable reward. Not a determination of who has the rights, but of how we were going to conduct our relationship.” Strathern’s friend posits an alternative account (and accounting) of sociality that cannot be reduced to contracts between putatively sovereign individuals engaged in market exchanges, but instead connects persons and groups with one another through processes that acknowledge moral authorship, gifts, and the debts they create. This alternative and the related account from feminist theory are poignant yet powerful. They are poignant, and at times even tragic, because such alternatives are always under siege; they must exist alongside or within social orders dominated by capitalist exchange and are often overwhelmed. But these alternative accounts are also powerful because they remind us that the alienated social relations that capitalist contracts reinforce are not inevitable. Beyond that, these accounts are deeply insightful: humans are intrinsically interdependent in daily life, and their relationships rely on gifts and work through debts and their acknowledgments, irrespective of explicit market calculi. These alternatives lead us to ask ourselves, how are we going to conduct our relationship? More broadly, they lead us to ask, are there ways not only to ‘think on’ but also to engender everyday practices with respect to gifts and debts in ways that transcend the nasty, brutish, and short relationships to which capitalist exchange reduces most people? I want to propose that one set of


Donald M. Nonini

practices that transcends the capitalist marketplace and that serves for thinking on and acting with respect to gifts and the debts they create is the ‘intellectual commons’. Bollier (2002) contends that the intellectual commons operates through a “gift economy.” He argues that the “scientific commons” is based on a gift economy in which scientific knowledge is a gift; “the gift must always move” from one person or group to another; the more gifts that are circulated, the greater the reputations of their givers; and the outcome is “an increase in social and emotional value that gift exchange generates in a community” (ibid.: 39). The gift economy is “an intersubjective force” (ibid.). This perspective should be familiar to anthropologists acquainted with Mauss’s ([1924] 1965) The Gift, Malinowski’s ([1922] 1984) Argonauts of the Western Pacific, and more recently Appadurai’s (1986) The Social Life of Things. However, in any rigorous examination of the intellectual commons as a potential alternative set of nonalienated practices, two conditions are necessary. First, it is imperative that the intellectual commons as a noncommodified social arrangement for treating knowledge as a gift to people be robust and self-reinforcing. There must be means of determining accountability among persons who belong to an intellectual commons, such that they recognize the knowledge that they receive from one another as gifts and acknowledge the debts that they owe in return. In some form of practice, they would also pay their debts or at least balance them by reciprocity, giving someone who has given one a gift of knowledge some other knowledge in return, or otherwise compensating him or her. Commitments must count, and there must be consequences for failing to meet them. This requirement exists, above all, so that the resources shared in common are not exhausted but, depending on the type of resource, are renewed or sustained. Within the literature on the commons, this is referred to as

The Intellectual Commons


the process of ‘governing the commons’ (Dolšak and Ostrom 2003; Ostrom 1990), meaning self-government. However, there are some special circumstances related to governance that apply uniquely to intellectual commons. The ‘goods’ produced by intellectual commons (ideas, theories, methods of research, inventions, innovations, etc.), unlike those produced by natural commons (e.g., timber, fish), are ‘non-rival’ or ‘non-subtractive’; that is, usage by one member of the commons of an intellectual good does not make less of it available to other members (Nelson 2003, 2004). Users of an intellectual commons, therefore, need not be limited in the ways that users of a natural commons—who must individually each have rights of exclusive access to some part of the good (e.g., forest stand, fishing site) held in common—have to be. In contrast, an intellectual commons is generative in that it can ‘scale up’ as it develops: the more users, the better the commons functions, since the marginal cost of adding users is zero, and new users not only are the recipients of the gifts of non-rival knowledge from others in the commons, but also reciprocate by producing new knowledge for them refined on the basis of knowledge previously received. The outcome should be, as Bollier (2002: 39) notes, “an increase in social and emotional value” as the intellectual commons grows. There are at least two problems with the governance of an intellectual commons. One problem is to prevent any enclosure of knowledge and its products by either a member of the commons or by an outsider, which has the effect of preventing knowledge from remaining nonrival—that is, it limits its circulation. The other problem is to make sure that all those giving gifts are appropriately acknowledged by other members as incurring debts and then adequately rewarded with new knowledge, prestige, peer recognition, honors, etc. This problem takes the classic form of the junior post-doctoral scholar whose


Donald M. Nonini

new experimental procedure is claimed by his laboratory director as the latter’s own, without attribution. Given these two problems and the asymmetric terms of fieldwork marked by a legacy of British imperialism, including appropriation of indigenous cultigens (Brockway 1979) and Australian colonialism, how Strathern and her Mt. Hagen friend, for example, are to conduct their relationship within an intellectual commons—in which ideas, technologies, and knowledge are to flow in both directions—appears to be an open question. A second condition for an intellectual commons to satisfy, if it is to serve as an alternative to alienated capitalist relations, is that it be placed within the social and historical context that constitutes the field of power within which it operates and be found to be non-exploitative with respect to the rest of global society. People (intellectuals or scientists) participating in an intellectual commons are members of a sodality, and we must ask whether, and if so in what ways, its gift economy is underwritten by forms of power that redistribute wealth or other life advantages through class exploitation; dispossession of racial, ethnic, or national groups of their resources; or gender privilege. Is gift-giving within the intellectual commons dependent on power asymmetries between it and other institutions, even other intellectual commons? Do its members transcend capitalist market relations in one respect only by being privileged by these relations with others? Or, another way of putting it, is the intellectual commons as such situated within a broader social relationship with outsiders (e.g., society or humanity) in which gifts given to the commons and debts incurred by it are acknowledged and compensated? A careful reckoning of accounts of the intellectual commons requires that it satisfies these two conditions: it must be governable and sufficiently robust internally, and insofar as it is underwritten by outsiders, it must acknowledge

The Intellectual Commons


the gifts so given in the course of its external relations as debts and repay them. Nothing less can be required of any alternative to the current capitalist order. Let us see how one candidate for the intellectual commons measures up.

Scientific Commons in ‘University Inc.’ Mainstream theories of modernity situate intellectual and scientific commons in major Western research universities, which display conditions assumed to be propitious for the development of these commons—accumulated financial, scientific, and cultural resources; concentrations of expertise; and ideological commitments to freedom of inquiry, intellectual intercourse, and open expression (Parsons 1951: 335–348). Nonetheless, to anyone acquainted with the history of universities in the United States, in their contemporary form they turn out to be singularly unpromising sites for flourishing intellectual commons. A purely autonomous American intellectual (academic) commons has never existed. What came to be the academic intellectual commons in the US was sullied from birth by its contact with both ‘commerce’ and ‘state’. Since the birth of the American research university in the late nineteenth century, there has been a dialectic between the capitalist impetus toward enclosing scientific invention—brought on, as Marx ([1867] 1967) observed, by the continuous search for technological innovations impelled by capitalist competition and the need to create relative surplus value—and state initiatives that at times have sought to place “useful knowledge” in the service of private capital, but at other times have implemented broader definitions of the “public interest” (see Washburn 2005: 49–72). Since the 1980s, new forces of corporate influence on universities have set in as public funding for research has contracted, with universities increasingly turning to the private sector for both philanthropic and research funds.


Donald M. Nonini

A predictable wave of commercialization of inventions by university researchers has been the result. There has, however, been a twist. Under the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 (a.k.a. the University Small Business Patent Procedures Act), universities have acquired exclusive rights to own, patent, or license the inventions of any of their faculty who have received federal government funding for their research.1 Thus, research universities have become the principal agents of enclosure of the academic commons, securing patent rents as brokers between faculty inventors and corporations—and, as it turns out, other researchers. A large proportion of new patented intellectual products coming out of the academic science commons since 1980 have been in two fields—genetics and computer software code. This has been made possible by two 1980 US federal court decisions: Diamond vs. Chakrabarty, which affirmed that a genetically modified life form could be treated as an invention, not as an act of nature, and could therefore be patented; and Diamond vs. Diehr, which extended patent protection to “applications of laws of nature and mathematical formulas” (Washburn 2005: 147). As a result of the Bayh-Dole Act and these and later court decisions, the number of patents granted annually to universities has increased from 264 in 1979 to 3,200 in 2001 (ibid.: 70). University ‘technology management offices’, the arms of university administrations now devoted to such property’s exploitation, have proceeded to license their faculties’ inventions—apparently, far more often than not on exclusive terms—to for-profit corporations. It is thus not surprising that as the enclosures of faculty research inventions represented by patents have radically increased, there has been a hypertrophy in the number of university technology management offices, from only 25 in 1980 to 200 in 1990, to the point that by 2000 almost every research university in the US operated its own patenting and licensing facility (ibid.).

The Intellectual Commons


Reflections on the history of intellectual production within the US university setting over the past two decades point to a systemic trap in which academic intellectual commons have been caught. These commons—marked by the give and take of ideas; open and critical debate over theories, research methods, and findings; and commitment to standards of scholarship—have shown a distinctive pattern by discipline. Products coming out of research that are more valuable in commercial or geo-political terms have had their production constrained by propertization as a condition for corporate or government subsidies of research. Products that are less highly valued have been less subject to enclosure, and in that sense there has been ‘freer’ inquiry. However, lack of interest has also resulted in marginalization and underfunding for the disciplines in question. These changes to the academic research commons have taken place during a turbulent period of recomposition of US capital and changes in capital accumulation regimes since the 1970s (Harvey 1989). Over the same period, as the US economy in particular has moved into a post-industrial, information-technology-driven, and postmodern phase, rights in the ‘intangible property’ of scientific inventions (i.e., licenses from patents) and creative materials (i.e., royalties from copyright) have become far more crucial to capital accumulation than during the prior period of industrial production of material commodities (Coombe 1998: 53–55). Securing intellectual property rights, in particular, is the driving force behind much of the US corporate strategy of accumulation with respect to the global South (see Scharper and Cunningham’s essay and Nonini’s introduction, this volume). In contrast, in fields in the natural and information sciences, in which the generative features of the scientific commons are highly prized through the sharing of specific data, theories, and research methods, the dispossession of researchers from their research products is taking place.


Donald M. Nonini

Universities’ exercise of their new proprietary interests in faculty research have not been salutary for the American academic variant of the intellectual commons. To faculty in the humanities and social sciences, university administrators say, in effect: “You are free to research whatever you like, but expect to remain poor and always expect to teach the undergrads in class sizes of our choosing.” In contrast, the message of university administrations (and their technology management offices) to faculty engaged in research with commercial value is more stark: “You won’t have to bother with the undergrads, but know that collectively we own not only your means of production but also your product—not just your inventions, but even the material substrates of the very methods by which you do your own research.” University researchers are increasingly at risk of being dispossessed by university administrations of the very conditions essential to their craft work or, in Marx’s (1964: 106–119) terms, their “species-being.” Whether this threatens the viability of what Washburn (2005: 145) calls the “broader innovation system” coming out of scientific research in the US and whether this is acceptable to large numbers of researchers committed to scientific inquiry and public welfare before corporate profits are good questions. This is evident in the controversy over ‘research tools’ and their differences from ‘end products’ that arose among geneticists in the late 1990s. According to the NIH Working Group on Research Tools (1998: 2), the term ‘research tool’ includes “cell lines, monoclonal antibodies, reagents, animal models, growth factors, combinatorial chemistry libraries, drugs and drug targets, clones and cloning tools (such as PCR), methods, laboratory equipment and machines, databases and computer software.” The controversy foundered on a distinction between end product and research tool that expresses the ambivalence toward capital and the state to which most Ameri-

The Intellectual Commons


can academic researchers have long been prone. Most researchers view an end product as a potential outcome of research that possesses the aura of something valuable because if commercialized it will benefit the public. But they see a research tool altogether differently: being used in the course of research experimentation, it should be accessible to all who need it to further their research. However, the distinction between end product and research tool shifts depending on where one is in the chain of production, and so too does the moral distinction between what can be enclosed and what should remain free for the use of all. As the Working Group on Research Tools (1998: 2) put it, “[W]e use the term ‘research tool’ in its broadest sense to embrace the full range of resources that scientists use in the laboratory, while recognizing that from other perspectives the same resources may be viewed as ‘end products.’” The controversy arose because the “other perspectives” were not only those of corporations commercializing the patented research tools that were their end products, but also those of university technology management officers. The latter, having assumed ownership on behalf of universities of faculty members’ research tools, have imposed heavy tolls on other scientists seeking to employ them through “material transfer agreements”: they have granted exclusive licenses to private corporations, extracted extremely high licensing fees on researchers from other universities, and imposed onerous requirements on use, demanding protracted negotiations and delays in the research course (Working Group on Research Tools 1998: 3). As part of their enclosures of their faculties’ inventions, technology management offices impose confidentiality clauses that place restrictions on the inventors’ rights to freely circulate their findings and, above all, on the physical materials (e.g., gene sequences, genetically modified experimental mice)


Donald M. Nonini

that compose their research tools (ibid.: 8). Universities have required their faculty to submit their manuscripts for review before sending them to publishers; have imposed legal ‘pass-through’ university ownership rights on all future discoveries derived from the invention in question; and have prohibited such materials from being used in research in conditions ‘already subject to licensing’ at another university (Washburn 2005: 137–170). Thus, university technology management officers have become the new gatekeepers, regulating the circulation of academic scientific knowledge and promoting its enclosure. Their rhetoric generates a subjectivity of greed, individualism, and distrust of other researchers, as in the case of one such officer at a prominent research university who addressed faculty ‘entrepreneurs’ as follows: “Yes, you can do it all, but you do need to do some planning if you don’t want to get entangled in too many obligations to too many people. Every time you enter an agreement to do something with another researcher, institution, agency, or company, you take on restrictions on what you can do with the results of the project. This seminar will provide … researchers with an understanding of how various offices on campus can help set up their agreements and minimize downstream restrictions and allow for the commercialization of technologies arising from research activities.” There is evidence that university and corporate enclosure of faculty inventions results in researchers holding back information and materials from circulation to other specialists engaged in similar research (Walsh, Arora, and Cohen 2004). According to one study (Campbell et al. 2002), 47 percent of geneticists surveyed responded that they had been denied access to information, data, or biomaterials from other geneticists at least once in the previous three years, and 28 percent stated that because they had been denied access, they had been unable to replicate research published by others. Many respondents

The Intellectual Commons


noted that due to data withholding by others, they had ended a collaboration (28 percent), had had a publication delayed (24 percent), or had abandoned a promising line of research (21 percent) (ibid.: 473, 478). Only 12 percent of those surveyed indicated that they had denied another researcher’s request for access to data, but they were more likely than non-withholders to be engaged in commercializing their research (ibid.: 473, 479). The study noted that the most frequent refusal was of access to biomaterials or research tools, and that the onerous requirements of material transfer agreements (set by universities and corporations) were in part responsible (ibid.: 479). Is academic research in the US organized around disciplinary intellectual commons? Perhaps commons exist in the social sciences and humanities, although I discuss threats to them due to copyright below. However, in the natural and information sciences, insofar as intellectual commons exist, they exist increasingly only at the pleasure of university technology management offices and corporations. In no way, therefore, do academic scientific commons in the US appear to be robust or self-governing in the sense of being able to maintain the non-rival status of intellectual products, since universities and corporations alike are inducing or forcing researchers to enclose them and thus opt out of commons arrangements. Nor do intellectual commons in US universities measure up well in terms of their accountability to constituencies from whom they have benefited by receiving gifts. Fortunes gained from specific American and European imperialisms have underwritten both the founding of universities and ongoing university research in the United States. One need only mention that many early-twentieth-century benefactors of elite research universities (e.g., Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Carnegie) accumulated their fortunes in part in imperial ventures in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Moreover, massive subsidies for research in the sciences


Donald M. Nonini

at US universities today come from transnational corporations still engaged in appropriating wealth from countries in the global South in the form of patent royalties, license fees, adverse terms of trade, and, most recently, monopoly incomes from privatized national assets: in 1995, more than half of all global royalty and licensing fees were paid to patent and copyright holders in the US (United Nations Development Programme 1999: 68). However, university administrators and researchers in US universities have refused to recognize the provenance of such gifts and the debts abroad that they have collectively thereby incurred. One such example of repudiation of a debt took place in 2000 when major transnational pharmaceuticals refused to allow the South African government to manufacture generic versions of crucial anti-retroviral drugs then needed in South Africa as therapy for its 4.7 million HIV-positive citizens in the AIDS epidemic then (as now) afflicting the country. The South African subsidiaries of 39 transnational pharmaceuticals sued the South African government in the High Court in Pretoria. The pharmaceuticals argued that South Africa’s Medicines and Related Substances Control Act of 1997, which allowed for the ‘parallel importing’ of patented anti-retroviral drugs2 and generic competitors, and provided for compulsory licensing of patented anti-retrovirals in the case of a national health emergency (such as AIDS), abrogated the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement of the World Trade Organization, of which South Africa was a member (Gellene 2001; Médecins Sans Frontières 2001; Susser 2002). But the trail of repudiations led directly to institutions of higher learning in the United States. Numerous holders of the original patents for such drugs were not the pharmaceuticals suing South Africa but rather universities, whose faculties’ inventions (subsidized by government funds) had been licensed exclusively by their technol-

The Intellectual Commons


ogy management offices to these corporations, or which joined with their faculty inventors to form new for-profit ventures to produce the drug on behalf of a pharmaceutical. One such drug, stavudine, had been invented by a Yale University researcher and licensed exclusively by Yale to Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), which produced it under the brand name Zerit. BMS, one of the plaintiffs to the lawsuit, rejected the South African attempt to purchase a low-cost generic version. Yet for several months, Yale refused to renegotiate its license with BMS to allow this, perhaps one reason for its reluctance being that the university had already received $262 million in royalties for stavudine from 1994–2000 (Washburn 2005: 164–165). Finally, after several weeks of intense pressure and publicity by a transnational coalition of AIDS activists (led by Médecins Sans Frontières) and the academic community, and fearing damage to its reputation, Yale relented in early 2001, and BMS agreed not to enforce its licenses’ rights against other corporations producing a generic version of stavudine (ibid.: 164–167). In this case, the capacity of the US scientific commons to acknowledge its own debts and the gifts it has received from the global South was at best compromised, although Yale students and even the faculty inventor of stavudine were among those who called on Yale to loosen its patent restrictions. Still, the broader community of anti-retroviral drug researchers in the US appears to have had little involvement.

‘Viral’ Constraints on Freedom to Enclose: A ‘Copyleft’ World? This investigation into the possibility that an internally robust and externally non-exploitative intellectual commons can pose an alternative to alienated capitalist social relations has not, up to this point, been a happy one. Within the broader context of cultural life in the North,


Donald M. Nonini

Boyle (2003: 38–39) reports that a “second enclosure of the commons” in diverse areas of intellectual production and creativity has occurred over the last two decades: “The expansion of intellectual property rights has been remarkable—from business method patents, to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, to trademark antidilution rulings, to the European Database Protection Directive … Both overtly and covertly, the commons of facts and ideas is being enclosed.” Given the neo-imperialist implications of TRIPS, enclosures by patents of specific biological materials derived from local knowledges in the global South—and even of Southern human genetic materials—have become more frequent and encompassing (see Scharper and Cunningham’s essay and Nonini’s introduction, this volume). Strathern’s question—how are we going to conduct our relationships?—is more pressing than ever, yet has no obvious answer when we seek alternatives. Nevertheless, the everyday practices of social life suggest that modest, pedestrian intellectual commons frequently exist, even in the middle (or to one side) of capitalist contractual arrangements. Communities of intellectuals, artists, sports fans, music lovers, game enthusiasts, midwives, environmental activists, community gardeners, organic farmers, and many other people exchange many kinds of situated knowledges and intellectual products—ideas, tools, techniques, musical and artistic works, and much more—outside of commodity transactions, and are ubiquitous even in the most alienated commodity society, the United States. Many of these quotidian commons, like better examples of academic scientific commons, show what Boyle (2003: 44) calls “distributed creativity”: they are not only open-ended but also intellectually generative. They are constituted as sodalities and networks of individuals and groups—exercising their species-being—that are decentralized and work together on common projects, and do so from a variety of motivations—obligation for

The Intellectual Commons


gifts received, prestige, aesthetics, love of family and friends, and even the profit motive. Each person may contribute just a bit to the functioning of the whole network: she supplies knowledge about how to farm a certain crop organically; he offers a bootleg recording of a favorite musician’s performance; together, they improve on a segment of software code to share with others. The model for Boyle is open-source software systems, such as Linux, as foci for intellectual commons (2003: 46): [O]n a global network, there are a lot of people, and with numbers that big and information overhead that small, even relatively hard projects will attract motivated and skilled people … For the whole structure to work without large-scaled centralized coordination, the creation process has to be modular, with units of different sizes and complexities, each requiring slightly different expertise, all of which can be added together to make a grand whole … More likely, lots of people try, their efforts are judged by the community, and the best ones are adopted. Under these conditions … we will get distributed production without having to rely on the proprietary/exclusion model.

Many intellectual commons, including those mentioned above, function informally in ways like this. Much of the discussion on this topic has centered on laws, court decisions, and treaties—effective instruments of state rule. Drawn by capitalist relations into the minute and detailed insides of the juridical codifying machine, the free intercourse of ideas and the exchange of knowledges and of intellectual and creative works are ground down, pulped out, and rendered into patents and copyrights held by individuals and corporations seeking economic profit. Is there any escape from this artful yet terrorizing machine of rule? Perhaps not. Perhaps, however, given the potential to form intellectual commons showing distributed creativity, the devices of law can be used to confound law’s worst


Donald M. Nonini

effects. I am thinking of the ways in which novel arrangements like the ‘copyleft’ General Public License used for Linux (Free Software Foundation 1991) and the Creative Commons (Merges 2004: 196–200) work by unbundling sets of individual intellectual property rights to facilitate the operation of the commons. Take, for example, the General Public License (GPL) that Richard Stallman and others have created. The GPL is the license written in accordance with the Copyright Act under which the Linux operating system functions. Applied to Linux, the GPL states that others may take the initial software program to use, copy, distribute, or modify without charge or other restriction, but only if all such copies and products are themselves covered by the General Public License (Free Software Foundation 1991). Thus, the GPL functions as a ‘viral’ clause that replicates indefinitely the requirement that future applications or modifications of the software code not be enclosed for profit making. Is distributed creativity a general feature of intellectual commons? I see no reason it would not be—at least in areas of intellectual life as yet unenclosed. What about, then, applying copyleft to the intellectual productions of subaltern peoples and groups in the global North and South? This of course cannot be dictated by an article in an academic journal. But the stakes are high, for the second enclosure movement by global capital is aggressive and continues daily. Copyleft arrangements for certain intellectual commons and their products combined with national and (ethnic, indigenous) group rights over intellectual property could engage large numbers of people in global coalitions against such enclosure. As the Linux example shows, this could generate products of extraordinary value for livelihood beyond or on the edges of the capitalist economy. Better yet, a global coalition led by Southern activists might impel the repeal of TRIPS and patent reform along the same lines.

The Intellectual Commons


One can be under no illusions that distributed creativity and copyleft arrangements implemented more widely would lead to a global utopia composed of freely associating members of heterogeneous intellectual commons. Leftist libertarians wishing to transcend the neoliberal propertizing state will be disappointed, for this proposal unavoidably wires in the state and its laws. The cunning of capital in seeking to extirpate legal arrangements not in its favor (such as copyleft) must also be confronted. So too must issues of the democratization of intellectual commons, since the class, race, and gender privilege of some members currently makes possible their acquisition of the leisure time and educational capital required to fully participate, while excluding others. Nonetheless, given the contemporary conditions of capitalist global domination, people must begin transformations where, when, and however they are able. This may be one idea worth stealing on behalf of a global movement struggling against the enclosure of all forms of knowledge and culture.


Donald M. Nonini

Notes 1. To offer one ponderous yet typical interpretation of how the Bayh-Dole Act applies, as a faculty member of the University of North Carolina, I am informed by its “Patent and Copyright Policies” that “with the exception of ‘Inventions made on Own Time’ … every invention or discovery or part thereof that results from research or other activities carried out at a constituent institution, or that is developed with the aid of the institution’s facilities, staff, or through funds administered by the constituent institution, shall be the property of the constituent institution” (University of North Carolina 2004: 5). 2. Parallel importing refers to a practice in which a purchaser is able to ‘shop around’ globally for the lowest prices for a drug patented and produced by a pharmaceutical instead of having to pay the prices set by the latter’s subsidiary in the country of import.

References Appadurai, Arjun. 1986. The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Bollier, David. 2002. Silent Theft: The Private Plunder of Our Common Wealth. New York: Routledge. Boyle, James. 2003. “The Second Enclosure Movement and the Construction of the Public Domain.” Law and Contemporary Problems 66: 33–74. Brockway, Lucile. 1979. Science and Colonial Expansion: The Role of the British Royal Botanic Gardens. New York: Academic Press. Campbell, Eric G., Brian R. Clarridge, Manjusha Gokhale, Lauren Birenbaum, Stephen Hilgartner, Neil A. Holtzman and David Blumenthal. 2002. “Data Withholding in Academic Genetics: Evidence from a National Survey.” Journal of the American Medical Association 287, no. 4: 473–480. Coombe, Rosemary. 1998. The Cultural Life of Intellectual Properties. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Dolšak, Nives, and Elinor Ostrom. 2003. “The Challenges of the Commons.” Pp. 3–34 in The Commons in the New Millennium:

The Intellectual Commons


Challenges and Adaptation, ed. Nives Dolšak and Elinor Ostrom. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Folbre, Nancy 2001. The Invisible Heart: Economics and Family Values. New York: New Press. Free Software Foundation. 1991. GNU General Public License. Cambridge, MA: Free Software Foundation. Gellene, Denise. 2001. “AIDS Drug Pricing Controversy Opens Door to Wider Debate.” Los Angeles Times, 26 March. Harvey, David. 1989. The Condition of Postmodernity. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Malinowski, Bronislaw. [1922] 1984. Argonauts of the Western Pacific: An Account of Native Enterprise and Adventure in the Archipelagoes of Melanesian New Guinea. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press. Marx, Karl. [1867] 1967. Capital. Vol. 1: A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production. New York: International Publishers. ______. 1964. Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. New York: International Publishers. Mauss, Marcel. [1924] 1965. The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies. New York: Norton. Médecins Sans Frontières. 2001. “MSF Demands Pharmaceutical Industry Stop Obstructing Access to Medicines in South Africa.” Press release, 1 March. http://www.doctorswithoutborders .org/ pr/2001/03-01-2001.cfm. Merges, Robert P. 2004. “A New Dynamism in the Public Domain.” University of Chicago Law Review 71: 183–203. Nelson, Richard R. 2003. “The Advance of Technology and the Scientific Commons.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series A, Mathematical Physical and Engineering Sciences 361, no. 1809: 1691–1708. ______. 2004. “The Market Economy, and the Scientific Commons.” Research Policy 33, no. 3: 455–471. Ostrom, Elinor. 1990. Governing the Commons. New York: Cambridge University Press. Parsons, Talcott. 1951. The Social System. Glencoe, IL: Free Press. Strathern, Marilyn. 2004. Commons and Borderlands: Working Papers on Interdisciplinarity, Accountability and the Flow of Knowledge. Wantage, UK: Sean Kingston Publishing. Susser, I. 2002. “AIDS in Africa.” Plenary paper presented at the Canadian Anthropological Society Annual Meeting, Windsor, Ontario, 27 April.


Donald M. Nonini

United Nations Development Programme. 1999. Human Development Report. New York: United Nations Development Programme. University of North Carolina (Office of Technology Development). 2004. “Patent and Copyright Policies.” Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina. revise.html (accessed 2 July 2006). Walsh, John P., Ashish Arora, and Wesley M. Cohen. 2004. “Patenting and Licensing of Research Tools and Biomedical Innovation: Where Do We Go from Here?” Washington, DC: National Academies of Science’s Science, Technology and Economy Policy Board and the National Science Foundation. (accessed 18 May 2006). Washburn, Jennifer. 2005. University, Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of American Higher Education. New York: Basic Books. Working Group on Research Tools. 1998. Washington, DC: Reports of the National Institutes of Health. researchtools/ (accessed 31 May 2006).

Reinventing the Appalachian Commons

7 Jefferson C. Boyer

It was a momentous occasion. Just 10 days before the community celebrated the ‘saving’ of the 2000-acre Elk Knob region from developers, Dr. Patricia Beaver and several Appalachian Studies students met with 80-year-old Council Main on his family land with a spectacular view of Elk Knob and, stretching out beyond it, Ashe County, North Carolina’s Long Hope Ridge, and Peak Mountain. Pleased about the saving of his homeland and heritage, Council was identifying wild plants and explaining about their medicinal uses and how they were harvested. When a student asked if individuals had designated spots for plant collecting, Council responded: Well, back when I was little, you used to go anywhere and get it and nobody would say nothin’ to you. That was the way of life, you know. If I had found something on your land like that, I could get it. Or, if they found something on ours, they could get it. You didn’t have all these “no trespassing” signs. Seems to me if people, if they get this


Jefferson C. Boyer

property, the first thing they do will be to put up a “no trespassing” sign. And we never did do that. Patricia: What you’re talking about, it reminds me of the idea of the commons, where people would own land, but the tops of the mountains were kind of … Council: Just for everybody … when I was young, all the tops of this mountain was covered with goats—wild goats. Patricia: Oh, wild goats! What happened to them? Council: Well they just finally disappeared. I guess the scholars got all of them when they moved in. (Laughter).1

In this Appalachian case study, I point to historically evolving phases, structures and processes of commons and commons-making. Nevertheless, the core meanings of ‘the commons’, as minimally a system of communally shared resources and services, and of ‘commons-making’, as processes of social reciprocity and sharing by individuals and communal-regional groups, remain constant over time. Given the current hegemony of capitalism worldwide and the advancing insertion of market relations into virtually all aspects of human and biospheric life, I choose to stay close to the historical ‘what was and is’ when describing or attempting to illuminate commons and commons-making. This should better ground ‘what might be’—doubtless, the appropriate caution that the great risktaker, radical mountain educator, and movement visionary Myles Horton (1998) signaled when he shared his grandfather’s advice: “You can hitch your wagon to the stars, but you can’t haul corn or hay in it if its wheels aren’t on the ground.” The conversation with Council Main expresses the ongoing, if beleaguered, reciprocal norms of rural life in the

The Appalachian Commons


southern highlands of the United States. Gathering medicinal herbs and wild foods and pasturing livestock beyond, as well as within, one’s own property indeed continue in rural western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, and southwest Virginia as part of “commons tending” (Hufford 1997). In fact, nowhere in Anglo North America do echoes of a literal commons reverberate more persistently than across the coves and hollers of central and southern Appalachia. Land-hungry Scots-Irish immigrants established an eighteenth-century pattern of fencing out cattle, sheep, and hogs from their cabins, corncribs, and crops to graze freely in the vast mountain wilderness. These open-range commons enabled poorer English and German as well as the Scots-Irish settlers not only to survive but in many instances to purchase small farms from the annual sales of their livestock (especially hogs) fattened on the chestnut and oak mast of the free-range forests (Blethen 2004: 18–23; Williams 2002: 33–48). Such an egalitarian structure of land use and ownership co-existed with the larger landholdings and the quite unequal institution of slavery primarily because most (but not all) white farmers were too poor to own slaves and their farmsteads too small to utilize slave labor (Dunaway 2003; Inscoe 2004). To be sure, the rapid post–Civil War capital accumulation in agriculture, mining, timber, and railroads in Appalachia reinforced the dominant national economic and social formation. Still, this agrarian practice of the open range continued throughout the nineteenth century in the higher elevations of western North Carolina until larger landowners with more strictly commercial interests prevailed on the distant Raleigh state legislature to abolish it in 1901 (Blethen and Wood 1998: 44–46; Walpole 1989). The legacy of this older Scots-Irish agrarian structure (Stavenhagen 1970: 3)—made more diffusely American with the inclusion of Native Americans, African


Jefferson C. Boyer

Americans, and successive labor migrations from other European nations—continued to reproduce the norms of kin and neighborhood reciprocity, along with attitudes of fierce independence toward distant political and religious authorities. It constitutes one of Appalachia’s key forms of resistance to capitalism’s unimpeded advance (Williams 2002: 83–220). It is important to note that such ‘laudable’ behavior was more a time-tested survival strategy than the outcome of an idealized ‘society of saints’. The historical, ethnographic, and folkloric literature all suggest that such reciprocity was a product not only of affective generosity but also of harsh reprimands by parents toward selfish acts of children, and of the leveling of seemingly ungenerous adults through vindictive neighborhood gossip and criticism from clergy and fellow members of fundamentalist churches.2 Walpole (1989) describes the efforts of western North Carolina elites to move the final decision on terminating the open range to the safer, distant state capital as an attempt to avoid the threats, property destruction, and sometimes real violence that poorer landless and near-landless people of the hollers utilized as they battled against the loss of these much-needed pasturelands that were essential to the economic survival of so many. Such historic commons-making, therefore, was the outcome both of an active sense of local solidarity and of the negative sanctions of kin and rural neighborhood ties exercised within and beyond the community itself. Indeed, such echoes of the agrarian commons have continued throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. They are captured in Elvin Hatch’s (2003) ongoing research on southern Appalachia’s rural community and economy before, during, and after the Great Depression. Hatch’s research reveals the dual orientation of family-subsistence production and kin and community

The Appalachian Commons


reciprocity, as well as production for fluctuating markets of foodstuffs, cash crops, and livestock. This stands in marked contrast to California farming communities that Hatch (1975, 1979) has also studied. The western farms were more likely to be singly owned business enterprises; resource sharing rarely extended beyond siblings. Hatch’s own research in western North Carolina and his interpretation of Depression studies in eastern Tennessee and eastern Kentucky indicate that a similar extended-kin commons kept landless members working and eating in rural Appalachia. His data suggest that the amount of land owned by individual farmers was not a good indicator of productivity or wealth because of the continual nonmarket distributions among farmsteads alongside regional market exchanges. Interestingly, the wealthiest members were loath to make conspicuous their material status and break with the overarching norms of equality and generosity. Even the larger landowners, bankers, and wealthier lawyers continued to claim their rural roots and mountain identity (Hatch n.d.). Most remarkable about the Appalachian commons is its persistence throughout the industrial post-war years and the contemporary neo-liberal era of commodification of land and land use, culture, and everyday life. Rhoda Halperin’s (1990) perceptive study about “making ends meet” documented active networks of reciprocal economies that, throughout the 1980s, underwrote the survival and well-being of kinfolk from the “deep rural” and “shallow rural” spaces of northeast Kentucky moving into the working-class neighborhoods of Cincinnati, Ohio. Almost all worked together and shared products and services with their regionally dispersed kin across threegeneration extended families. They obtained these shared resources by employing a strategy of multiple livelihoods, including gardening and cash cropping, buying and sell-


Jefferson C. Boyer

ing in periodic markets, and working in factories and the service sector. Halperin suggests that the seasonal and periodic nature of multiple-livelihoods strategies is more agrarian than industrial—that it reflects patterns derived from the myriad tasks of small-scale farming with limited mechanization across much of Appalachia.3 This multiplelivelihoods adaptation to the twentieth century’s mixed industrial-agricultural economy points to an overlapping second phase in the history of the commons and of commons-making from a more land-based phase to a more occupationally varied one. Mary Lalone’s (2003a, 2003b) research on the New River Valley in Virginia questions the line that Halperin draws which excludes commons activities in coal-mining communities. With the sharp fluctuations in world demand for coal during the Depression and World War II, coal-mining families regularly fell back on kin and neighborhood labor and resource pooling to make ends meet through combining gardening and animal husbandry, hunting and fishing, and bartering and petty marketing. However, the resilience of Appalachian kin and community networks is most strikingly evident in LaLone’s careful interviews of New River families during the contemporary wave of globalization and rapid suburban development beginning in the 1980s. Battered by neo-liberal policies, free-trade agreements, and subsidies favoring large-scale technology and capital-intensive agribusiness corporations, while increasingly being pushed out of central places in the valley by suburban sprawl, the surviving cattle and dairy farmers have relied upon networks of mutual assistance—pooling labor, swapping farm equipment, and more systematically marketing their beef, dairy, and other products through regional cooperatives that can achieve some economies of scale. As is the case with North Carolina mountain livelihood strategies, they have shared resources from diversified sources

The Appalachian Commons


of work, with farm income augmented by “public work” (Beaver 1986: 112–114, 134; Boyer, Monast, and Moretz 1993) or the off-farm employment of some family members. As in the past, these family farmers have engaged in this reciprocity that utilizes their kin and neighborhood ties. Lalone (2003b: 13) concludes: Farm families interviewed in the study region continue these practices and emphasize that now as in the past, pooling and reciprocity are vital economic mechanisms for spreading out the rising costs of farm machinery, collaborating on work requiring large labor forces, and providing a support structure through which households help each other out … Rather than being rigid economic structures, refusing to alter their strategies—taking a “stand or die” approach—Appalachian household economies have actually displayed a great amount of flexibility in incorporating new elements into old economic patterns … There may be no turning back from globalization, but regional Appalachian households can continue to carry time-tested adaptive mechanisms into the future, and may need to do so to weather the risks and uncertainties associated with life in a global economy.

Labor and Civil Society Organizing So far, I have referred to the Appalachian commons as predominantly agrarian in origin, to the shared use of land individually and commonly held (phase 1), and to multiple-livelihoods economic strategies (including some market exchanges and wage labor), with the commons operating through informal processes primarily channeled through kin and community relationships (phase 2). It should be evident that commons-making extends to and includes the use of formal organizations—local and regional—not only to survive but, in Steve Fisher’s (1993:


Jefferson C. Boyer

1–3) view, to fight back against unjust markets, industrialization, and corrupt politicians who have intimidated and red-baited workers and used physical force to quell dissent. I agree with Gudeman and Rivera-Gutierrez (2002: 160–173) that the commons and commons-making are all about struggles to defend community by containing markets. They regard the commons as a feature of the community realm of economy—as both a base and a way of maintaining that base through time. I suggest that the commons must involve not only the sharing of resources but also the dialectical processes of building and protecting ‘free spaces’ (Fisher 1993: 319– 922) and what Appalachian scholar Richard Couto (1999: 2–5, passim) calls “mediating structures” of mutuality. Francesca Polletta (1999) reviews the many uses of the ‘free spaces’ construct advanced by social scientists and historians since Evans and Boyte (1986) offered their first joint formulation. Polletta (1999: 1) states: “For all these writers, free spaces are and their analogues refer to small-scale settings within a community or movement that are removed from the direct control of dominant groups, are voluntarily participated in, and generate the cultural challenge that precedes or accompanies political mobilization.” Fisher (1993: 329) introduced the construct to Appalachian scholarly and activist discourse, but with the reservation that free spaces can serve less than liberating ends when they are in or near conservative political environments. Couto (1999: 3) defined mediating structures as being formed by community and regionally based organizations, from the more conservative family and kin networks, churches, and voluntary and civic associations to the more progressive cooperatives, labor union locals, non-profit organizations, and advocacy groups formed around ethnic, racial, gender, and sexual-orientation justice issues, and around issues related to the environment,

The Appalachian Commons


health, human rights, etc. Couto (ibid.: 3, 37–50, passim) sees the potential of mediating structures as partners with government in protecting consumers, workers, and others from the market’s excesses and failings, but only if citizens demand that government supports such mediating structures through appropriate public policies. In such settings, mediating structures help establish free spaces or time-place environments where more communal and liberating thought, feeling, and action can occur. Polletta (1999) convincingly argues that we need more theoretical investigation into the ontological and experiential grounding of free spaces; the same undoubtedly applies to mediating structures. I also submit that the mutuality of commons and commons-making may well be an essential ingredient for grounding truly democratic and progressive structures and processes in collective action. In the long experiences of educators Myles Horton and Paulo Friere (1990) in Appalachia and Latin America, respectively, the cultural and political work of organizers and the creation of conducive time-spaces are usually needed to awaken people to a more critical awareness of their role not as mere passive receivers of history, tradition, and the status quo, but as shapers and agents of culture and of the future. Holland et al. (1998) provide other examples of how groups, in forging such social change in Appalachia and beyond, actively produce new figured or cultural worlds and associated identities as they create spaces where these worlds can be enacted. In this third phase of commons-making, we can build on the first two phases (as many groups and coalitions are attempting to do) and construct more residential and public commons. These new commons will combine private, communal, and public lands; will develop programs and policies of greening and decentralization in agricul-


Jefferson C. Boyer

ture, industry (including housing), and energy use in rural and urban spaces; and will promote sustainable livelihood creation for people of all income levels and social backgrounds. I also suggest that one of Appalachia’s lasting contributions to those building commons elsewhere is its maintenance of multiple-livelihoods strategies for individuals and families that break the monotony of repetitive tasks and boring routines by simultaneously sharing dull and exciting work and projects. This will serve to restructure the labor of the commons in a socially and psychologically more healthy direction. As an example of commons building, the long and bitter labor union struggles in the coalfields throughout most of the twentieth century certainly belied popular stereotypes and coal company tactics that “blamed the victims” by characterizing mountain people as backward, unintelligent, fatalistic, and irrationally violent—a “yesterday’s people” who could not organize beyond local levels (see Weller 1965). Automation, downsizing, and global outsourcing have greatly diminished organized labor’s strength since the 1970s. Nevertheless, the unions’ struggles continue, frequently offering powerful testimony to intentional efforts to build a common good by creating free spaces to band together in protracted strikes and negotiations with coaland mineral-mining transnational corporations (see Anglin 2002; Fisher 1993), and by innovative practices such as, in one recent instance, carrying out a successful bid to buy out a large paper manufacturing plant (Loveland 2005). The 1960s and 1970s began an era of community and regional organizing that continues today, influenced and sometimes limited by the practices of the civil rights movement, the War on Poverty, the anti–Vietnam War movement, and the environmental and women’s movements (Fisher 1993: 4–5). One would be hard pressed to find anywhere a better description than Hinsdale, Lewis, and Waller’s

The Appalachian Commons


(1995) account of grass-roots participatory research, consciousness raising, and utilization of Bible readings and popular education as a liberating force to study the local and global economy, and of struggles to revive industry and livelihoods by determined women (and men) in Ivanhoe, Virginia. Hinsdale and her colleagues provide a rich and detailed understanding of the ways in which mediating structures (including organizing the commons of a new park, advancing adult education for women, and working to bring back local industry) create and sustain free spaces and newly figured worlds and identities. In Ivanhoe and many other mountain communities, dedicated individuals and groups have worked through a variety of institutions not only to strengthen community ties but also to enhance broader regional coalitions and alliances that protect family farms; expand rural health care and education for the poor; stop toxic-waste dumping and rapacious clear-cutting; promote sustainable livelihoods, practices, and policies; and increase dialogue between natives and Latino migrants to the region. These efforts involve adult training and democracy schools, university and college outreach in community participatory research, and the involvement of voluntary associations, including churches and synagogues, neighborhood and ethnic organizations, community and civic groups, theaters, musical performance groups (and public broadcasters) of traditional and alternative varieties, nonprofit organizations, health-care centers, union locals, and consumer cooperatives. Couto (1999) and many others consider mediating structures to be ‘social capital’. I respectfully dissent. Why reduce community structures to the realm from which all notions of capital derive—the five-centuries-old economic and social formation of capitalism that everywhere assaults consciousness, society, and material life (Marx [1867] 1967, [1893] 1967, [1894] 1967)? In line with the conception of


Jefferson C. Boyer

the commons by Gudeman and Rivera-Gutierrez (2002), these community structures are simply the social framework that makes the commons work over time. The political agenda of Appalachia and the nation has made a gradual shift from the mass politics of industrial labor to the neo-populist politics of democracy and justice for diverse communities of different cultures and races, a politics that also addresses gender-equity concerns and identity rights with hospitable spaces for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transsexual people. Appalachia has witnessed people organizing initially around single issues that have not infrequently given rise to regionwide, multiissue coalitions (Fisher 1993: 5, 319–329; see also Bingman 1993; Couto 1993, 1999; Foster 1993). With their victories and disappointments, older coalitions—for example, Save Our Cumberland Mountains, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, and the Community Farm Alliance—have demonstrated remarkable tenacity. The 2002 formation of the multi-issue Appalachian Coalition for Just and Sustainable Communities (ACJSC) expresses a growing concern for an inclusive local-to-global greening of the commons. The issues and activities of the ACJSC cut across participatory democracy and economic development in the form of careful, innovative public-private sector collaborations for the creation of sustainable livelihoods and environmental integrity, that is, for protecting biodiversity and respecting ecological carrying capacities. From its inception, the ACJSC has honored the ‘just’ or allinclusive aspect of its mission, almost uniquely demanding that sustainability or green solutions extend to the poorer natives of the rural hollers and to disenfranchised Latino migrants, as well as to local elites and urban professionals. The ACJSC has begun to map the organizational landscape in Appalachia, and so far it has listed 128 networks, coalitions, and local organizations in the public, private, and

The Appalachian Commons


civil-society sectors. Of these, 26 are multi-state in scope, 16 are statewide, and 8 are multi-county entities.4 Since the opening of the Highlander Research and Education Center in 1932, it has played an important political and educational role in “unearthing seeds of fire”5 of radical democracy in the peoples of Appalachia, the US South, and other nations. Its founder, Myles Horton, saw its work as preparing potential leaders of poor and working-class communities to analyze critically their own experiences and situations in order to struggle for “the long haul” for a humane and just society. Horton (1998: xix–xx, 175–176) saw one battle with many fronts and would be concerned, as is the current staff and Highlander board, to weave together the many threads of the new social movements and coalitions mentioned above into a powerful, transforming movement for social justice. Although that unifying work remains, Appalachia’s dense network of forming and re-forming organizations, as one analyst, Bill Horton, observed, may be like no other in the United States (Fisher 1993: 7). This raises the possibility that Appalachia’s organizational potential for commons-making is precisely the opposite of what the negative assertions and stereotypes about the region have claimed.

Cultural Obstacles against Inclusive Commons-Making … if way to the Better there be, it exacts a full look at the Worst. — Thomas Hardy, “In Tenebris II”

As Couto (1999: 3–8) points out, it would certainly be wrong to conclude that Appalachia’s long and rich history of resistance, organizing, and struggle has successfully


Jefferson C. Boyer

mitigated the adverse effects of market economics while increasing communal bonds and social and economic equality. More than a decade of neo-liberal free-trade agreements in the hemisphere and major transnational investments in Asia have produced steady job losses through plant closings and the outsourcing of entire industries, including agricultural mainstays such as burley tobacco production on family farms. These changes have been aggravated by the devastation in Central Appalachia brought about by mountaintop removal—an automated, highly capital intensive, and increasingly unregulated assault by the coal companies on the miners’ livelihoods, their communities, and the surrounding ecosystems. A quarter-century of neo-liberal policies of privatization, reductions in government social spending, and corporate global trade have exacerbated economic inequality and have served to increase class, ethnic, racial, and gender divisions across the region (Anglin 2002; Couto 1999; Fisher 1993; Gaventa 2002; Sutton 2005). While analysts are correct to signal the great diversity of Appalachia’s responses to these harsh political economic trends across urban and rural spaces (Anglin 2002; Couto 1999), it is also important to point to some persistent general patterns. One of these is an intensified sense of a beleaguered native ‘we’ versus an often diffuse, antagonistic ‘they’. Characteristic of the older agrarian strategy of exclusive reliance on one’s kin and community ties, this defensive response can hinder efforts to forge solidarities across social divides. Jesse Wimberley’s (1996: 27) insightful essay, “A Bridge Not Built Yet,” discusses the challenges of community organizing with his fellow rural North Carolina white males, touching on themes that resonate in the mountains of Appalachia: “Community in our area is often built upon an acknowledgement of what we stand against. Not only are we against equality

The Appalachian Commons


with blacks. We are against Mexicans, homosexuals, and abortion … The loss of independent farm culture rocked us out of our universe. We—particularly the men—looked for someone outside of ourselves to blame for the frustration and anger. Using the racism, sexism, and homophobia that already existed in the community, we found convenient scapegoats.” Wimberley (ibid.) goes on to indicate the ways in which low-income people who happen to be white, male, and straight are distracted by whatever privileges these statuses confer from looking at larger causes of systemic inequality—policies that allow runaway corporate profits and declining worker wages, job security, health, and safety conditions. Politicians who support such policies use inflammatory race and gender issues to keep working-class Southerners in the US from recognizing their common plight and joining forces with one another and other oppressed groups. This cultural obstacle against inclusive commons-making was dramatically confirmed in the 2004 US national elections when Appalachian states and counties overwhelmingly “voted rich while continuing to live poor” (Sutton 2005). The Republican strategy of obscuring voters’ economic interests by focusing on the emotionally charged cultural battles against secular humanism, gay marriage, abortion, gun control and for military patriotism proved particularly effective (ibid.: 340–344). I was struck by the number of “Bush/Cheney Farm-Ranch Team” campaign yard signs that appeared along the roadsides of my struggling Ashe and Watauga County neighbors, who were apparently willing to overlook the steady elimination of crucial government support for tobacco and other smallfarm subsidies. Apropos is Keefe’s (2000) research on the religious roots of social conservatism in the mountains, which illuminates the challenges of working with people whose particular Protestant world-view places God in the


Jefferson C. Boyer

center of daily life and demands conformity to strict and traditionally defined morality, including values of both individual and socially restricted group responsibility. Fisher (1993) reminds us of a final constraint on effective community and commons-making, one that must affect the strength and flexibility of traditional kin and communal ties described by Lalone (2003a, 2003b) and others. If anything, Lalone’s report on the spread of globally organized, corporate-controlled economics into everyday life in Virginia’s New River Valley reveals a microcosm of the changes occurring across Appalachia as a whole. Fisher (1993: 323–324) points to an undermining and transformation of community institutions as a result of the expansion of a consumer-oriented society that “has encouraged citizens to think mainly of their own self-interest … [T]he reorganization of neighborhood life and social spaces by modern capitalism has dramatically reduced the number of public meeting places … More and more of the important decisions that affect our lives are made by distant corporations and state and national political figures rather than in city halls. We can no longer assume … the existence of community and community institutions.”

Strategies for More Inclusive Commons-Making I conclude this essay with proposals not only as a social scientist but also as a participant in the current regional struggle for the Appalachian commons.6 Many of my neighbors, and Appalachian residents in general, are still able to see through gross commercialism to their own longterm interests.7 They can also express notions that reach toward a view of the common good (see Daly and Cobb 1989), when they are not being manipulated by cynical politicians. A listening project on Watauga County’s recent zoning battles (Boyer and Hill 2003 ) revealed very clear

The Appalachian Commons


awareness in its rural communities about the fact that zoning proponents—the majority being city-based, professional newcomers—were not taking into serious account most residents’ fundamental economic issues: skyrocketing taxes on farmland, declining jobs and livelihoods, and little affordable housing, among others. In fact, the support of native mediators like Council Main for some protective zoning and wilderness ‘savings’ such as Elk Knob is a reminder that the economic justice aspects of commons-making are crucial to maintaining widespread community trust (Hubbard 2004). The Appalachian State University Sustainable Development Program’s research and long-term involvement in the Laurel Valley community near Boone indicate that fortunately natives and newcomers can and do work together to strengthen community infrastructure and services and to celebrate annually Appalachian culture and music. It happened because community residents decided, more than a decade ago, to discuss issues as they work together, and they have learned to listen carefully to each other. Laurel Creek citizens have managed and resolved many personal conflicts, and a sense of mutual respect appears to have developed. Future research may confirm my proposition that both natives and newcomers are producing new shared identities of themselves based upon the palpable tension between their actual communities of practice and their imagined Laurel Creek of the future, in which visions of a more united, integrated community are sought (see Holland 2004; Holland and Lave 2001). Crucial in this process of alliance building is the learning by newcomers of how to participate in everyday community life in ‘the Appalachian way’. It includes taking the time to stop and talk with neighbors—“doing a lot of porch settin’,” as one community organizer here calls it. This also requires learning local and family histories and


Jefferson C. Boyer

communicating through the informal networks of family, neighborhood associations (including churches), and other organizations (Bartlett and Boyer n.d.). Essential also to this effort is the need on the part of secular organizers and scholars who endeavor to work in the Southern and mountain ‘Bible Belt’ to respect and tolerate religious expression in public spaces (Daly and Cobb 1989). At the same time, learning by native residents is also occurring, for alliance building means opening up community discussions to include a wider diversity of ethnic, race, class, gender, and sexual orientations that are increasingly present. This inclusive communication and action can be strengthened by the work of the many experienced staff of the regional coalitions. The Highlander staff sees this as the hard, necessary cultural work for any just and democratic transformation. Fisher’s (1993: 324) conclusion that consumer capitalism’s destructiveness makes our work less the recapture and defense of traditional institutions than the renewal and reconstitution of communities should apply equally to efforts at forging more locally open and socially and culturally inclusive Appalachian communities. Yet Council Main’s concerns remind us that both the conservation of effective traditions of mutuality and the creation of new mediating structures and identities are critical for reinventing the commons and for building movements that include a wider, more solidary Appalachian ‘we’.8 Couto (1999: 277–278) is correct that the uniqueness of each community means that there are no easy shortcuts for building genuine democracy at the local level. Nevertheless, communities encounter similar challenges (e.g., livelihood creation, watershed protection, provision of social services, etc.) and bureaucratic impasses. Multi-issue organizations, coalitions, and alliances that cross county and state boundaries are more effective than single-issue organizations in help-

The Appalachian Commons


ing communities learn from each other and in forging free spaces and the horizontal and vertical networks needed to obtain resources and to contest corporate and government power (Couto 1999: 277–290; Fisher 1993: 329). Clearly, much cultural and political work remains. In Appalachia and in the US, those of us committed to Appalachia must endeavor not only to reconcile and heal the painful ‘we versus they’ community wounds of recent regressive political campaigns, but also to create a commons that protects citizens from the savage side of market capitalism. But in order to achieve such a political transformation, we citizens need to regain democratic control of the US government, so that it serves people and communities and protects consumers, workers, farmers, and nature’s commons from the market’s excesses and failings (Couto 1999: 3). Our work must intentionally seek to establish a supportive, nurturing public sphere within and around land—residential, rural, and urban commons—with appropriate mediating structures that encourage livelihoods and careers around sustainability at least as much as around the market. The ‘reinvention’ of Appalachia’s commons can, therefore, draw upon its people’s rich history of accumulated cultural and material resources of past commons-making. In this third phase, the major challenge is to expand and nurture the just, sustainable, and livelihood-creating structures and spaces that effectively counter not only national and global market domination but also systematic efforts to weaken and divide current efforts to forge genuine solidarities, especially among the native and immigrant poor. However formidable the challenges, many who do the hard community organizing work have seen repeated instances of individual and collective transformation. Fisher’s (1993: 329) comment about such potential of free spaces, I submit, applies equally to this latest phase of commons-


Jefferson C. Boyer

making: “These organizations provide free spaces where ‘people’s history’ can be connected to a systemic critique of the political economy; where participants can begin to see the connections between their concerns and those of other exploited people; where members can come to confront issues of racism and sexism; and where people can start to envision new alternatives to the world in which they live.” Finally, Appalachia’s coalitions and solidarities for commons building have an important global role to play. John Gaventa’s (2002) keynote address to the Appalachian Studies Association identified systemic global inequality as one of the key problems of the twenty-first century, and it is certainly one with a long history in this region. Not only have Appalachian analysts borrowed models and paradigms for understanding inequality from other world regions, but they in turn have intimate knowledge of inequality and struggles with American corporations and power to offer others facing similar challenges in other societies (ibid.: 84–85). Moreover, Barbara Ellen Smith’s questioning of a closed and homogeneous notion of regional place (2002) and her discussion of the recent entrance of Latino migrants into mountain communities and places (2004) make it clear that the global South is now a part of the political economic reality of Appalachia. Gaventa (2002) and Reid and Taylor (2002) raise important issues of identity: too much attention to the differences between Appalachian insiders and outsiders frequently has shifted critical attention away from issues of racial and class differences, power and widespread redistributive justice. The challenge is how we will locate ourselves as both Appalachian and global citizens, and link with voices speaking from the margins and fringes of global power (Gaventa 2002: 90). In the end, reinventing the Appalachian commons calls for reinventing local and regional commons elsewhere as well.

The Appalachian Commons


Acknowledgments The author wishes to thank Elvin Hatch, Susan Keefe, and Steve Fisher for their useful comments on earlier drafts of this article. It also draws from other Appalachian scholars and scholar-activists: Patricia Beaver, Richard Couto, Rhoda Halperin, Mary Lalone, Helen Lewis, and also John Gaventa, Herb Reid, and Barbara Ellen Smith. Although I part company with Couto’s use of social capital, his critique of its neo-liberal uses and innovative analysis of mediating structures and democracy making deserve the highest praise. I also thank Steve Owen, president of the Appalachian Coalition for Just and Sustainable Communities, for his path-breaking commitment to work for the long haul, and acknowledge his efforts to map the organizations and coalitions mentioned in the article.

Notes 1. Patricia Beaver is the director of Appalachian Studies at Appalachian State University, Boone, NC. This 12 September 2005 interview with Council Main was taped and transcribed by graduate student Susan Pepper. The ‘saving’ was the outreach work of the Goodnight Family Sustainable Development Program at Appalachian State University, headed by Tommy Walsh, and the North Carolina Nature Conservancy, which partnered to turn this land over to the North Carolina Park Service. Appalachian Studies graduate students, especially several in the Sustainable Development concentration, helped with the background research and some of the interviews with private landowners that facilitated the Nature Conservancy’s work. 2. Both Beaver (1986) and Halperin (1990) give ethnographic accounts of punishments, often physical, applied to selfish children and of the censuring of a greedy adult, who was purported to act “above his [or her] raisin’.” They also suggest that rural preachers and active churchgoers in the many varieties of Baptist and Pentecostal churches that came to predominate in


Jefferson C. Boyer

Appalachia reinforced these sanctions. The stories and folktales of Ashe, Watauga, and Alleghany counties in North Carolina (Cooper and Cooper 1998, 2001) and western North Carolina’s Blue Ridge (Lasley and Holt 2004) and the tales by storyteller Jo Carson (1989) also indicate similar familial, church, and community admonitions and sanctions. 3. Halperin (1990) found a rupture of these strategies in the adjacent, heavily industrialized coalfields of central Appalachia, but cites Patricia Beaver’s (1986) study of the burley tobacco farming communities in northwestern North Carolina as evidence of an otherwise continuous Appalachian pattern of multiple-livelihoods strategies and social-material reciprocity. 4. On 11 November 2005, the ACJSC partnered with the Ashe County Campus of Wilkes Community College and Appalachian State University’s Sustainable Development Program to host a regional workshop on sustainable livelihood creation in industry and manufacturing. All those present agreed that sustainable manufacturing is the only path to recoup the massive job losses while protecting the environment. New hybrid firms with public financing and innovative applied research are needed. See the ACJSC Web site ( for workshop details and for the initial regional listings of organizations, coalitions, and networks focused completely or significantly on sustainability issues and strategies. 5. See Frank Adams’s (1975) popular history with his suggestive title. 6. As the founder of Appalachian State University’s Sustainable Development Program in 1991, I, together with my colleagues, have endeavored to build an active local, regional, and international community outreach component, including nurturing the creation of the Appalachian Coalition for Just and Sustainable Communities. My membership in the Highlander Center’s board of trustees is a personal attempt to strengthen such ties to the region and beyond. 7. See the uncopyrighted instructional video, Escape from Affluenza in the Mountains, produced in 2000 by filmmaker Edwin Dennis and myself, and supported by the Goodnight Family Sustainable Development Program, Appalachian State University.

The Appalachian Commons


References Adams, Frank. 1975. Unearthing Seeds of Fire: The Idea of Highlander. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair Publishers. Anglin, Mary. 2002. “Lessons from Appalachia in the 20th Century: Poverty, Power, and the ‘Grassroots.’” American Anthropologist 104, no. 2: 565–582. Bartlett, Lesley, and Jefferson Boyer. n.d. “Mobilization, Participation and Sustainable Development in Appalachia.” Pp. 557–587 in Participatory Development in Appalachian Communities: Essays on Cultural Identity, Social Capital and Sustainability, ed. Susan Keefe. Unpublished. Beaver, Patricia. 1986. Rural Community in the Appalachian South. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press. Bingman, Mary Beth. 1993. “Stopping the Bulldozers: What Difference Did it Make?” Pp. 17–30 in Fisher 1993. Blethen, H. Tyler. 2004. “Pioneer Settlement.” Pp. 17–29 in Straw and Blethen 2004. Blethen, H. Tyler, and Curtis Wood, Jr. 1998. From Ulster to Carolina: The Migration of the Scotch-Irish to Southwest North Carolina. Boone, NC: Appalachian Consortium Press. Boyer, Jeff, and Vanessa Hill. 2003. “Rural Protest and Global Realities: The No-Zoning Battle in Watauga County, North Carolina.” Paper for the Invited Session, Global Forces in the Mountain South, 102nd Meeting of the American Anthropological Association. New Orleans. Boyer, Jefferson, Jonas Monast, and Ray Moretz. 1993. “Toward a Sustainable Economy in Western North Carolina: Ashe and Watauga Counties.” Report prepared for the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, Sustainable Development Program, Appalachian State University. Carson, Jo. 1989. Stories I Ain’t Told Nobody Yet. New York: Orchard Books. Cooper, Leland, and Mary Lee Cooper, eds. 1998. The Pond Mountain Chronicle: Self-Portrait of a Southern Appalachian Community. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company. ______. 2001. The People of the New River: Oral Histories from the Ashe, Alleghany and Watauga Counties of North Carolina. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company.


Jefferson C. Boyer

Couto, Richard. 1993. “The Memory of the Miners and the Conscience of Capital: Coal Miners’ Strikes as Free Spaces.” Pp. 165–189 in Fisher 1993. ______. 1999. Making Democracy Work Better: Mediating Structures, Social Capital and the Democratic Prospect. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Daly, Herman, and John B. Cobb, Jr. 1989. For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy Toward Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable Future. Boston: Beacon Press. Dunaway, Wilma. 2003. Slavery in the American Mountain South. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. Evans, Sara, and Harry Boyte. 1986. Free Spaces: The Sources of Democratic Change in America. New York: Harper & Row. Fisher, Stephen, ed. 1993. Fighting Back in Appalachia: Traditions of Resistance and Change. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Foster, Stephen. 1993. “Politics, Expressive Forms, and Historical Knowledge in a Blue Ridge Resistance Movement.” Pp. 303–316 in Fisher 1993. Gaventa, John. 2002. “Appalachian Studies in Global Context: Reflections on the Beginnings—Challenges for the Future.” Journal of Appalachian Studies 8, no. 1: 79–90. Gudeman, Stephen, and Alberto Rivera-Gutierrez. 2002. “Neither Duck or Rabbit: Sustainability, Political Economy and the Dialectics of Economy.” Pp. 159–186 in The Spaces of Neoliberalism: Land, Place and Family in Latin America, ed. Jacquelyn Chase. Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian Press. Halperin, Rhoda H. 1990. The Livelihood of Kin: Making Ends Meet “The Kentucky Way.” Austin: University of Texas Press. Hatch, Elvin. 1975. “Stratification in a Rural California Community.” Agricultural History 49: 21–38. ______. 1979. Biography of a Small Town. New York: Columbia University Press. ______. 2003. “Delivering the Goods: Cash, Subsistence Farms, and Identity in a Blue Ridge County in the 1930s.” Journal of Appalachian Studies 9, no. 1: 6–48. ______. n.d. “How Much Was Enough?” Unpublished. Hinsdale, Mary Ann, Helen Lewis, and Maxine Waller. 1995. It Comes from the People: Community Development and Local Theology. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Holland, Dorothy. 2004. “Social Identities, Social Movements and Enduring Struggles.” Invited paper at the conference “Whose

The Appalachian Commons


Development? Whose Movement? What Justice? What Sustainability? Perspectives from Latin America and Appalachia.” Appalachian State University, Boone, NC. Holland, Dorothy, William Lachicotte Jr., Debra Skinner, and Carole Cain. 1998. Identity and Agency in Cultural Worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Holland, Dorothy, and Jean Lave, eds. 2001. History in Person: Enduring Struggles, Contentious Practice, Intimate Identities. Santa Fe, CA: School of American Research Press. Horton, Myles, and Paulo Friere. 1990. We Make the Road By Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change. Ed. Brenda Bell, John Gaventa, and John Peters. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Horton, Myles, with Judith Kohl and Herbert Kohl. 1998. The Long Haul: An Autobiography. New York: Teachers College Press. Hubbard, Glenda. 2004. “Interview with a Peacemaker.” Watauga Observer (Summer): 1–2. Hufford, Mary. 1997. “American Ginseng and the Idea of the Commons.” Folklife Center News (Library of Congress) 19, nos. 1 and 2 (Winter–Spring): 1–18. Inscoe, John. 2004. “Slavery and African Americans in the Nineteenth Century.” Pp. 30–45 in Straw and Blethen 2004. Keefe, Susan. 2000. “Understanding Social Conservatives.” Paper presented at the 99th annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association. Lalone, Mary. 2003a. Appalachian Farming Life: Memories and Perspectives on Family Farming in Virginia’s New River Valley. Radford, VA: Brightside Press. ______. 2003b. “Adapting Appalachian Household Survival Strategies to Deal with Globalization and Modernity.” Paper presented at the 102nd annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association. Lasley, Bob, and Sallie Holt, eds. 2004. Outhouse Spiders and Tin Tub Baths: Tales from the Good Old Days in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Hickory, NC: Hometown Memories Publishing Company. Loveland, George. 2005. Under the Workers’ Caps: From Champion Mill to Blue Ridge Paper. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press. Marx, Karl. [1867] 1967. Capital. Vol. 1. New York: International Publishers.


Jefferson C. Boyer

______. [1893] 1967. Capital. Vol. 2. New York: International Publishers. ______. [1894] 1967. Capital. Vol. 3. New York: International Publishers. Polletta, Francesca. 1999. “Free Spaces in Collective Action.” Theory and Society 28: 1–38. Reid, Herbert, and Betsy Taylor. 2002. “Appalachia as a Global Region: Toward Critical Regionalism and Civic Professionalism.” Journal of Appalachian Studies 8, no. 1: 9–32. Smith, Barbara Ellen. 2002. “The Place of Appalachia.” Journal of Appalachian Studies 8, no. 1: 42–49. ______. 2004. “Latino Migration into Appalachia.” Invited paper at the conference “Whose Development? Whose Movement? What Justice? What Sustainability? Perspectives from Latin America and Appalachia.” Appalachian State University, Boone, NC. Stavenhagen, Rodolfo, ed. 1970. Agrarian Problems and Peasant Movements in Latin America. Garden City, NY: Doubleday/ Anchor. Straw, Richard A., and H. Tyler Blethen, eds. 2004. High Mountains Rising: Appalachia in Time and Place. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Sutton, David. 2005. “Living Poor and Voting Rich.” Appalachian Journal 32, no. 3: 340–351. Walpole, Matthew. 1989. “The Closing of the Open Range in Watauga County, NC.” Appalachian Journal 16, no. 4: 320–335. Weller, Jack E. 1965. Yesterday’s People. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press. Williams, John. 2002. Appalachia: A History. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Wimberley, Jesse. 1996. “A Bridge Not Built Yet: Reflections of a Low-Income White Man.” Southern Exposure (Spring): 25–27.

Conceiving the Health Commons Operationalizing a ‘Right’ to Health

7 Sandy Smith-Nonini

In a perusal of literature on ‘the commons’, it is striking how rarely medicine and health services are mentioned as potential commons. Nor is the concept of the commons discussed in medical and health journals, where database searches turn up only the odd article using the term in a title or abstract. This essay evolved as an inquiry into what benefit might be gained from conceiving of a health commons. The fact that scholars seldom discuss a health or medical commons as such may be a fluke of nomenclature. Perhaps, as Bollier (2002a: 1) notes, it is a matter of “learning to see the commons.” Certainly, a de facto public health commons exists in every municipality that provides clean water, sewage disposal, or subsidized inoculations for communicable disease—services often taken for granted by most citizens. Their importance, however, is manifest in the outcry when interruptions in services occur. In devel-


Sandy Smith-Nonini

oping countries, such services head the list of demands that squatter communities make on urban authorities. Since the mid-1990s, a new literature, drawing on the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and more recent international conventions, has argued the case for public access to health care as a human right. The journal Health and Human Rights, begun in 1994 by Jonathan Mann at Harvard University, exemplifies this approach. In his recent book, Pathologies of Power, physician and medical anthropologist Paul Farmer (2003) adopts a similar moral framework, arguing that the denial of human rights routinely harms the health of millions around the globe. The ideal of universal access to health services is stated in the constitutions of many countries of the developing world, but the resources to realize the goal—and/or the political will to distribute those resources widely—are lacking in most such settings. In recent decades, many of the poorest countries, particularly in Africa, have seen worsening health indicators due to the AIDS epidemic and to cutbacks in health and education budgets (25–50 percent cuts in some cases) that neo-liberal structural adjustment policies have required as a condition for renegotiating foreign debt, according to UNICEF reports (Black 1999). Privatization and new user fees likewise exacerbated global health inequalities (WHO 2006). Thus, even as the concept of a ‘right’ to health has gained force in the industrialized world, access to essential medical care has become even more of a luxury in parts of the developing world. Among the difficulties of the human rights approach to health, according to Yamin (2000), are a lack of consensus on what such rights mean in practice, the problem of enforceability under international law, and a lack of consciousness among the world’s populations about health as a right. Neither human rights concerns nor public health needs predominate in discussions of health care in urban set-

The Health Commons


tings and in industrialized countries, where the influence of biomedicine and the ‘medical-industrial complex’ has become well established. In most places, this highly complicated bureaucratic machinery is an amalgam of public and private interests, although the trend toward greater corporate control and the abdication of public responsibility by states have predominated since around 1980. In Europe, a consensus favoring universal access to health has long been established, and while there are active debates on improving existing health policies, most national health systems in Europe, Canada, and Australia would seem to fit the definition of a commons, as laid out by Bromley and Feeny (1992). Their concept of a commons includes managed public access to “property rights,” but can also take the form of social relationships built around rights of access to a good or service that the public views as valuable and scarce. In such a schema, rights to the common resources and services are shared by members of a group, each of which has a claim to a benefits stream. Adopting this definition, a fully developed health commons would be expected to have at least the following mechanisms: (1) a way to make sure that all members of a population have access to the services; (2) a method of financing the system to train providers sufficiently and serve the population equitably; (3) a system of oversight to contain inflationary pressures and balance supply and demand for care; (4) a process to ensure quality of care and effective use of services; and (5) a means to maximize accountability to the population served. In contrast to the situation in Europe, where national health care systems are well established, there is an ongoing debate in the United States about the ethics and economic wisdom of funding universal access to health services. Given the neo-liberal climate of recent decades, it is perhaps not surprising that health-planning journals


Sandy Smith-Nonini

in both the United States and Europe tend to be dominated by operational issues related to efficiency and cost savings. Bromley and Feeny (1992) point out that cooperative strategies evolve over periods of time, and indeed there is evidence to suggest that both the real and perceived health of populations and measures to equalize access to services have been key aspects of state formation worldwide. In a comprehensive overview, Roemer (1993) found steady rises in shares of GDP devoted to health in every industrialized country between 1960 and 1987, and total health expenditures by the late 1980s ranged from a low of 5.3 percent of GDP in Greece to a high of 11.2 percent in the United States. In most countries, two-thirds or more of this spending came from the public sector. Even in the United States, where voluntary insurance and private funding prevail, public finance has grown (ibid.), and recent decades of reform aimed at controlling costs have seen the increasing penetration of government regulatory mechanisms in medical practice (Moran 1999). Health expenditures have also risen since the 1970s in most developing countries for which data are available (Roemer 1993), and there have been measurable gains in life expectancy and infant and child mortality in the last 25 years, according to the UN Development Programme (Black 1999), despite the setbacks associated with the AIDS epidemic and structural adjustment. Notable standouts among developing nations include Cuba, Costa Rica, and the state of Kerala, in southern India, where universal access to health care has been established for some decades. In all three settings, the benefits are reflected in population-based public health statistics that resemble those of the global North.

The Health Commons


Why a Health Commons Is a Good Tool for Thinking There are several strong arguments for conceiving of health services as a commons. Firstly, this approach strengthens the concept that governments and societies have an obligation to the collective social welfare, and that the health of populations should be maximized and thought of as a public good. This is a much-needed corrective to the dominant neo-liberal model that treats the generation of economic profit as the primary social good and views services connected with human welfare as a cost that must be justified on economic grounds. A health commons approach would require greater visibility for existing public subsidies for medical training, research, and facilities, and a discourse of accountability about public access to services. In the context of democratic governance, setting priorities in this way underscores the necessity of state-level planning and either a method of global financing (e.g., under a single budget) or some other system of shared costs in which equity is guaranteed by the state. Some health services, for example, clean water and disease control, are indivisible and/or benefit the entire population, while others benefit individuals. Some procedures, for example, cosmetic surgery and liver transplants, are more discretionary or experimental, and some, such as back surgery and Cesarean sections, are probably overprescribed in some settings. Expanding services to the underserved will require acknowledgement that some medical therapies constitute limited goods and, at least in the near future, must be rationed. But this is not a new development. In reality, rationing has been with us all along, but it has most often been carried out on the basis of ability to pay and, to the degree that it is done subtly by physicians, remains ‘under the radar’ of public discourse (Moran 1999).


Sandy Smith-Nonini

Another benefit of a commons in health services would be to raise awareness about the quality of care. New research on health outcomes and the recent movement for less anecdotal and more ‘evidence-based’ medicine hold the promise (largely unrealized) of reducing the estimated one-third of medical procedures that the US Institute of Medicine estimates are performed when they should not be. This is not only an issue of cost; ineffective procedures usually involve some degree of risk and may harm patients. The political influence of organized medical professionals and of the medical-industrial complex (Moran 1999) has helped ensure that this is a neglected issue in most countries to date. These concepts of rationing and quality of care under a health commons presume a level of democratic community participation in health planning. While public service is central to medicine’s rhetoric, the notion of democratic participation in the management of health services has been only rarely developed in wealthy societies, a situation probably tied to the hegemony of both biomedical and capitalist marketplace ideals. In contrast, community participation has become a staple of international health development in the global South (at least in principle, if not always in practice), as institutions and planners have responded to critiques of neo-colonial development. Likewise, the right to health has become increasingly a demand in anti-poverty movements. The People’s Health Movement (PHM), founded by representatives from 92 countries, met in Bangladesh in 2000 to mark the failure of the United Nations’ “Health for All by 2000” campaign. PHM activists are seeking a million signatures on a charter calling for health and equity to become the highest priorities in international development. The growth of Internet health sites and heightened public skepticism about medical authority are moving in similar directions in the global North, but

The Health Commons


there is still a long way to go to achieve community-based health. This gap in communication and feedback between health providers and consumers is exacerbated by the inequality gap that increasingly divides societies in both the industrialized and developing worlds. In addition, there has long been a historically fraught relationship between public health and medicine, and a need to integrate health planning and delivery of care (Garrett 1995). Unlike medicine, which enjoys public prestige for curing individual bodies, mechanisms of public health are complex and often invisible to publics. A population’s state of health derives from a complex interplay of clean water and nutrition, sanitation, emotional well-being, education, and occupational health (McKeown 1979). Cause and effect are difficult for the public to perceive. Many think of good health as simply an absence of disease. This means that the most essential, yet non-prestigious, aspects of public health services often become ‘neglected commons’, stunted by chronic underfunding and fragmented services. For all these reasons, there seems to be merit in developing a language and common knowledge base for discussion of a health commons.

Why Health Services Are So Seldom Thought of as a Commons Unlike many common property regimes, such as land, water, or fishing rights, for which use rights have evolved over centuries, the notion of public access to a commonly managed set of health services has a more recent history. Scientific medicine and public health systems are recent traditions, even in the industrialized world, and collective policies to guarantee access to medical services date back only 100–150 years in Europe.


Sandy Smith-Nonini

Private systems of healing, in contrast, have a long history. Medical anthropologists have found culturally embedded remedies for routine complaints, as well as specialized healers, in nearly every human culture studied. Medical pluralism dominated in most places: afflicted people often sought care from multiple sources. Gift giving and barter were, and still are, common methods of paying healers in indigenous and village-level economies. Perhaps the earliest historical precedent for the centralized management of healing is a system of taxation tied to health care in ancient Greece (Roemer 1993). In medieval Europe, charitable care for the sick fell to the Catholic Church. The origins of today’s concept of public health authority can be traced to municipal responses to plagues in Italy during the fourteenth century (Hays 2000). Not until the Enlightenment was there a revival of study of Greek medical texts, combined with the turn toward secularism and experimentation associated with scientific medicine. Germ theory, dating to the mid-1800s, transformed the effectiveness of both public health and medical interventions. Professional dominance may be another reason that medicine grows out of private roots. Even in health systems with a large degree of state intervention, the public interest is in tension with, or subservient to, cultures of professional dominance and policies that favor providers’ interests or those of suppliers of pharmaceuticals and medical technology (Freidson 1970). Scholars of the professions often speak of medicine as the classic example of successful professional dominance. On the other hand, there are other examples of commons (e.g., fisheries) in which management is heavily reliant on technical experts, and certainly, as Moran (1999) has noted, even in the age of privatization the growth of state regulation of medicine has proceeded apace. So professional dominance should not be regarded as an insurmountable hurdle.

The Health Commons


National Health Systems as Evolving Commons If we consider existing national health systems as evolving historical systems embedded in the distinctive political and economic relations of their respective states, then a comparative analysis of the more comprehensive health systems provides a set of templates for discussing key elements and best practices for a health commons. The range of state systems that offer universal coverage varies from more hierarchical and centralized systems (as in Britain) to systems better described as corporatist, or state-regulated competition between provider networks (as in Germany). In Britain, which has had more success than most in controlling medical inflation, the National Health System (NHS), dating to 1948, gives citizens access to care but controls demand through the gatekeeping role of state-employed general practitioners (GPs) in primary care clinics who determine access to specialty and hospital care (Moran 1999). Complaints about the quality of care by patient organizations, combined with physician lobbies, led to reforms in the 1980s that allowed expanded ‘internal market’ mechanisms within the NHS (ibid.), which some decry as a ‘second tier’ of care that is not accessible to the lower classes. In Germany, in contrast, access to health care has a longer tradition, dating to the late 1800s, when over 1,300 municipal ‘sickness funds’ became regulated by the state, which thereafter required employers to carry compulsory medical insurance. Under the Nazi regime, organized medical doctors gained more control over the system, which they maintained after World War II. The result has been a network of strong, vertically integrated, private provider associations that, although cross-cut by regulation, lack the strong federal control associated with the British system. This has led to a diverse market of service options, but it has also meant high inflation. And since coverage


Sandy Smith-Nonini

is linked to employment, workplace inequalities are replicated in access to medical care (Light 2005; Moran 1999). Canada is similar to Britain in having a tax-supported system, access for all citizens, and a global budget. However, unlike the British, in Canada health facilities are private, and each provincial government enjoys much autonomy in administering the system (Fuchs and Sokolovsky 1993). Japan has a system that shares features with Canada’s system, in that health services are privately owned, and with German health care, in that most health insurance is tied to employment. Each plan is required to offer a minimum set of benefits. Like the British GPs, Japanese hospital physicians work on salary with fixed wages, and patients share a co-payment for most services (Sokolovsky 1993). While these systems differ, they all have achieved a level of success in covering the medical needs of their populations, and all four countries score higher on indices of population health than industrialized countries that lack universal coverage, such as the United States. Most funding of these systems is public, although this may take the form of compulsory social insurance (as in Germany and Japan) rather than taxation. In a comparative survey of national health systems, Navarro (1985) concluded that regardless of whether health services were public or private, government funding provided the best combination of cost control and extension of basic services to historically vulnerable populations, such as poor women and children. Roemer (1993) concurred that tax-based systems have great merit in assuring services to meet a population’s needs, but he cautioned against the hazards of wasteful management and corruption in totally state-managed systems. He noted, however, that the evolution of systems in industrialized countries has been from voluntary funds to mandatory social insurance, most likely because it offers advantages in overcoming ‘adverse

The Health Commons


risk selection’—or the exclusion of sicker or chronically ill patients from full coverage—a practice that has become commonplace among US health insurance plans. Although cost control has been the universal theme in health reform since the 1980s, Freeman (1998) observed convergences in how systems respond to pressures, with command-and-control systems like that of the UK finding savings through micro-efficiencies, while corporatist systems like that of Germany reform in the direction of more macro-controls such as global budgeting. Another convergence that Moran (1999) noted is the trend in several countries toward defining a minimal package of benefits that all plans, public or private, will offer.

Why a Commons Is Superior to a Market for Health and Medicine If the goal is to maximize health for a population, many problems arise when medical services are governed and regulated by a capitalist market—a fact that is recognized by most health administrators yet is poorly understood by many in the public, given the market-centered rhetoric of recent decades. The best example is the United States, with its bias toward private markets, which spends a higher percentage of its GDP on health than any other country (over 16 percent) yet has the least effective system in the industrialized world—consistently ranking poorly among OECD nations on public health indices, and even falling short compared with many emerging and low-income countries (WHO 2000). Despite this high spending, 46.6 million Americans were without health insurance in 2005. Unlike many other commodities we need in order to live, medical care in a market-driven system presents formidable disadvantages for consumers. A sick person is often not in a position to shop for care; with the exception of routine ailments, she or he is likely to be dependent on


Sandy Smith-Nonini

expert knowledge for a diagnosis. Even with competition between insurance plans, the market functions poorly, since health plans are oligopolies (at best) and limit patient choice (Kuttner 1997).1 It is telling that US government reforms to create a more market-driven system since the 1980s have actually fostered more bureaucracy, higher administrative costs, and regulations that interfere with doctor-patient relationships and professional autonomy (Moran 1999). Administrative costs now account for about a quarter of all health spending in the United States, compared with 15 percent in Europe (Leonhardt 2006). Health care services in a market-driven system illustrate the stark contradictions that arise around the question of who can access services and what limits their ability to do so. In such systems, the variety of services continues to grow, with more technologies, devices, medicines, and therapeutic procedures becoming available. Yet while patients appreciate these choices, studies of medical inflation show that 28 percent of annual rises in cost are tied to this expansion of services (Lee and Estes 2000). Likewise, while some new technologies save lives and money, technological advances frequently inflate costs for care when they become covered as standard benefits in insurance plans (Kuttner 1997). Thus, many medical ‘advances’ have the perverse effect of reducing access to care for the population considered as a whole. A fundamental cause of medical inflation is the labor-intensive nature of health care (not unlike other care services); while productivity stays relatively constant, inflationary pressures continually drive up salaries (Kuttner 1997). In many areas of medicine, there is also a lack of feedback between services delivered and demand. With end-of-life care, for example, more care is needed for ethical reasons, but this is often very costly and has no direct connection to producing a healthier population. The high degree of specialization

The Health Commons


and the advanced training required for medical practice further drive up salaries, particularly given the power that the medical profession and hospital associations wield with policy makers (Conrad and Schneider 1992). Yet another complication is the fact that medicine is a supply-driven system. Due to the central role of medical expertise in diagnosis and therapy, the health care provider is effectively both consumer and purchaser. This is inherently inflationary. While surveys show some erosion in the trust that the public has traditionally bestowed on doctors, there is still a strong tendency to accept a physician’s recommendations without question. Dartmouth University researchers have pioneered comparative studies of variations in medical practice between similar hospital ‘catchment’ areas. Their work demonstrates the perverse aspects of a supply-driven medical system: the more beds in a medical center, the more likely that administrators will exert pressures on the medical staff to keep them filled; the more surgeons in a hospital, the more likely that surgery will be the preferred treatment (see Wennberg 2004). The above problems are compounded by the profit motives and research agendas of biotech firms and corporations producing health-related products. Drug companies are perhaps the most egregious example: despite extensive federal subsidies to pharmaceutical companies in the form of public support for drug research, drug prices have more than tripled in a decade, without so much as a peep from US health regulators (Bollier 2002b). This political favoritism is no doubt linked to the pharmaceutical companies’ generous contributions to American electoral campaigns (Angell 2005). Exacerbating this has been the industry’s increasing role in corporatizing university-based drug research and enclosing it in intellectual property regimes to enhance monopoly profits (see Nonini, this volume; Washburn 2005). Other systems in which capitalist markets have proven inadequate share some characteristics with health care.


Sandy Smith-Nonini

Perhaps the classic case is scientific research. Basic science cannot advance without an ethical commitment to scientific standards, the public accountability of peer review, and the collegial exchange that takes place in a scientific ‘community’ (Jordan 1993). Another classic example is that of blood donation programs, in which ‘gift economies’ have proven superior to private systems by several criteria, including the quality of the blood, safety for donors, and costs (Bollier 2002b). The safety and ethics of organ donation systems, likewise, become skewed when not protected from corruption and the powerful markets created by desperately ill wealthy individuals, who will go to great lengths to secure access to life-saving organs for transplant. Markets for donor organs almost always cross steep trajectories of class from the wealthy sick in medical centers in the global North to the most impoverished individuals in nations such as India and the Sudan in the South (Scheper-Hughes and Waquant 2002).

Challenges That a Health Commons Must Overcome A common objection to universal coverage is the assumption that there will be a ‘free rider’ problem—that if care is free, people who are not truly sick will take advantage of services and tie up the system. Physicians, desiring to provide the best quality of care available and cognizant of high patient expectations (and the risks for malpractice lawsuits in the United States), are more likely to recommend expensive diagnostic procedures when they know that a patient’s insurance will cover the costs (Kuttner 1997). But this is not the stumbling block it appears to be. As has already been noted, health services are already successfully managed by the public sector in other industrialized countries. Management nearly always involves controls at the level of consumption (e.g., co-payments, gatekeeping by primary

The Health Commons


providers) and at the level of provider (e.g., capitation or fixed prices, practice guidelines, institutional feedback). Moran (1999) noted that many national health systems in capitalist countries do a poor job of restricting access to new medical technologies due to the political influence of the medical-industrial complex, but the answer to this is obviously better and more transparent governance of the system, not further capitulation to the market. A medical doctor, Roger Lewis (2004), recently made the case that emergency medicine in the United States is an example of the “tragedy of the commons” because there is a subset of users who overuse the services, causing degradation of quality and burnout of emergency room (ER) staff. He asserts that emergency services are “available without restriction” yet are “limited resources,” due to budgetary constraints and competing county, state, and municipal priorities. This ‘double bind’ exists in part due to a 1986 act of Congress—the only instance of a US ‘common law’ granting a right to health care—which established a precedent for the right to emergency treatment for pregnant women in labor (Wells 2004). Since then, the rapid growth of the uninsured population has made the ER the clinic of last resort for millions, leading to a crisis in emergency services. In California, for example, 70 hospital emergency rooms have closed down since 1990, according to Wells (2004). Lewis acknowledges that the well-known lack of access to primary care for poor patients is to blame for the overuse of ER services, but he does not consider the question of whether emergency services might function more successfully, while maintaining open access to the public, if the uninsured had another place to go—and coverage— for routine care. The existing situation with emergency services in the US could be described as an ‘open-access’ or unregulated property-rights regime. Yet functioning common property regimes tend to involve a defined group


Sandy Smith-Nonini

with some form of restricted membership and a process for allocating benefits. As Bromley and Feeny (1992: 11) point out, often when there are chronic problems of resource shortages with a commons, the main problem is the absence of effective group management for sustained use. A second problem often cited is how to pay for expanding medical services to the underserved. Scholars have observed the classic vulnerability of most commons to population growth or in-migration (Bromley and Feeny 1992). Such weaknesses seem at odds with the goal of universal access to health care, but this is really a matter of how ‘cost-benefit’ is defined. First, as numerous case studies show, bringing the underserved public into a health commons would, over time, improve the general health of the population, reducing costly outlays for tertiary care services and untreated infectious or chronic conditions.2 A healthy population would be more productive, resulting in positive economic repercussions (Sachs 2006). Second, given that much medical inflation is linked to the supply-driven nature of health care, clearly the key to managing costs is to publicly regulate providers through democratically governed global (centralized) budgeting for resources. The experiences of national health systems, and the better-run health maintenance organizations in the United States, show that management at the level of providers and services is increasingly accepted by providers and by the public. It can be cogently argued that the more serious problem is the tragedy of the ‘anti-commons’—when scarce resources (such as biomedical expertise or life-saving drugs) are underused because those who control access sequester them rather than making them available to those in need (Heller and Eisenberg 1998). With emerging diseases such as drug-resistant TB and AIDS, in which a few untreated cases in a poor population can lead to wide-

The Health Commons


spread contagion, the links between access to high-quality health services and the epidemiological consequences for a population become crystal clear (see Gandy and Zumla 2003; Garrett 1995; Smith-Nonini 2004). Just prior to the 2006 mid-term elections in the United States, a flurry of negative reports on health care costs added to the Bush administration’s woes, but seemed to signal that demand for universal health coverage is growing. The bad news included a national survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation showing that health costs are rising at twice the rate of inflation (Freudenheim 2006) and estimates based on more transparent accounting rules showing that future health care costs for public employees could bankrupt many cities and public agencies (Porterfield 2006). The good news was that a federally appointed citizens working group, after holding meetings with over 7,000 people in 37 states, found a public consensus for reforming health care and recommended that politicians work toward universal health coverage (Pear 2006). The newly elected Democrats controlling Congress placed health reform high on their agenda for 2007. Faced with an absence of leadership from Washington to date, states such as Maine, Vermont, and Massachusetts have already enacted universal health reforms. Similar proposals are under review in Oregon and California. Even some hospitals are finding that it is cheaper to offer free preventive care to poor patients with chronic conditions than to cover the tertiary care costs of treating uninsured patients once they become seriously ill (Eckholm 2006). Businesses have been passing more costs for health premiums to employees, but it is becoming clear now even to Wall Street that high medical costs threaten the global competitiveness of US businesses. In an ironic twist, some of the same capitalist lobbies that stymied cost controls


Sandy Smith-Nonini

in the early 1990s may become the new cheerleaders for some form of national health insurance. Clearly, there is a shift underway from the notion that access to health care is a privilege to the idea that health care is a right. Given existing US influence in medical research and health-related marketing worldwide, the renewal of health policy debates is likely to widen the space for non-market-oriented solutions in many countries. The global protests against trade agreements that disadvantage poor countries, together with recent protests in many Latin American nations against the privatization of health and other social services, suggest that notions of fairness are shifting the tenor of international relations away from the strategic realpolitik of decades past. Ultimately, such popular movements will be more important than health policy debates among elites in achieving more equitable distributions of health resources. The concept of a health commons holds the promise of fostering comparative analyses of systems and pushing these debates beyond the overworked ‘state vs. private market’ dichotomy. The ethos of the commons applied to health reform evokes a pragmatic international humanitarianism. If democracy is to remain a meaningful ideal, approaches to reform must guarantee all stakeholders a seat at the table.

The Health Commons


Notes 1. Two recent articles by Robert Pear in the New York Times addressed this problem. See “In Scramble for New Medicaid Business, a Few Insurers Grab the Most,” 29 April 2006, and “Loss of Competition Is Seen in Health Insurance Industry,” 30 April 2006. 2. Ironically, it was this kind of evidence that was cited to justify the expansion of HMOs in the United States in the 1980s, although private sector HMOs later became known for ‘skimming’, or offering coverage for the young and healthy, while excluding those with chronic conditions. A recent example is diabetes care in Asheville, North Carolina, where city workers have received free diabetes care and counseling for a decade. The program has doubled the number of patients who keep the disease under control and saved more than $2,000 per patient each year (Urbina 2006).

References Angell, Marcia. 2005. The Truth about the Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What to Do about It. New York: Random House. Black, Jan Knippers. 1999. Inequality in the Global Village. West Hartford, CT: Kumarian Press. Bollier, David. 2002a. “Ruled by the Market: Reclaiming the Commons.” Boston Review 27, nos. 3-4 (Summer). ______. 2002b. Silent Theft: The Private Plunder of Our Common Wealth. New York: Routledge. Bromley, D. W., and D. Feeny. 1992. Making the Commons Work: Theory, Practice, and Policy. San Francisco: ICS Press. Conrad, Peter, and Joseph Schneider. 1992. Deviance and Medicalization. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Eckholm, Erik. 2006. “To Lower Costs, Hospitals Try Donating Care to Uninsured.” New York Times, 25 October 25, A1, 13. Farmer, Paul. 2003. Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights and the New War on the Poor. Berkeley: University of California Press. Freeman, Richard. 1998. “Competition in Context: The Politics of Health Care Reform in Europe.” International Journal for Quality in Health Care 10, no. 5: 395–401.


Sandy Smith-Nonini

Freidson, Eliot. 1970. Profession of Medicine. New York: Dodd, Mead. Freudenheim, Milt. 2006. “Health Care Costs Rise Twice as Much as Inflation.” New York Times, 27 September, C1, 7. Fuchs, Beth C., and Joan Sokolovsky. 1993. “The Canadian Health Care System.” Pp. 195–205 in Spreding 1993. Gandy, Matthew, and Alimuddin Zumla, eds. 2003. The Return of the White Plague: Global Poverty and the ‘New’ Tuberculosis. London and New York: Verso. Garrett, Laurie. 1995. The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World out of Balance. New York: Penguin Books. Hays, J. N. 2000. The Burdens of Disease: Epidemics and Human Response in Western History. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. Heller, Michael A., and Rebecca S. Eisenberg. 1998. “Can Patents Deter Innovation? The Anticommons in Biomedical Research.” Science 280, no. 5364: 698–701. Jordan, Brigitte. 1993. Birth in Four Cultures: A Crosscultural Investigation of Childbirth in Yucatan, Holland, Sweden, and the United States. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press. Kuttner, Robert. 1997. Everything for Sale: The Virtues and Limits of Markets. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. Lee, Philip R., and Carol Estes. 2000. The Nation’s Health. Boston: Jones and Bartlett Publishers. Leonhardt, David. 2006. “A Lesson from Europe on Health Care.” New York Times, 18 October, C1, 12. Lewis, Roger J. 2004. “Academic Emergency Medicine and the ‘Tragedy of the Commons.’” Academic Emergency Medicine 11, no. 5: 423–427. Light, Donald. 2005. “Comparative Models of ‘Health Care’ Systems.” Pp. 500–514 in The Sociology of Health and Illness, 7th ed., ed. Peter Conrad. New York: Worth Publishers. McKeown, Thomas. 1979. The Role of Medicine: Dream, Mirage or Nemesis? Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Moran, Michael. 1999. Governing the Health Care State: A Comparative Study of the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany. New York: Manchester University Press. Navarro, Vicente. 1985. “Learning from Other Nations: An International Perspective on Health Care.” Health & Medicine 3, no. 1: 2–7, 29. Pear, Robert. 2006. “Panel Urges Basic Coverage of Health Care.” New York Times, 26 September, A17.

The Health Commons


Porterfield, Bob. 2006. “States to Owe Billions Soon.” Raleigh News and Observer, 25 September, 3A. Roemer, Milton I. 1993. National Health Systems of the World. Vol. 2: The Issues. New York: Oxford University Press. Rothenberg, Paula S., ed. 2006. Beyond Borders: Thinking Critically about Global Issues. New York: Worth Publishers. Sachs, Jeffrey D. 2006. “Macroeconomics of Health: No Health Available at $7.50 per Person per Year.” Pp. 364–367 in Rothenberg 2006. Scheper-Hughes, Nancy, and Loic Waquant, eds. 2002. Commodifying Bodies. London: Sage. Smith-Nonini, Sandy. 2004. “The Cultural Politics of Institutional Responses to Resurgent Tuberculosis Epidemics/New York City and Lima, Peru.” Pp. 253–290 in Emerging Diseases and Society: Negotiating the Public Health Agenda, ed. Randall M. Packard, Peter J. Brown, Ruth L. Berkelman, and Howard Frumkin. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Sokolovsky, Joan. 1993. “The Japanese Health Care System.” Pp. 168–190 in Spreding 1993. Spreding, C. J., ed. 1993. National Health Care. Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science Publishers. Urbina, Ian. 2006. “Trusty Druggist Has New Role: Diabetes Coach.” New York Times, 30 December, A1–A15. Washburn, J. 2005. University, Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of American Higher Education. New York: Basic Books. Wells, Alan. 2004. “Framing Health Care as a Right: Is That the Best Way to Foster Reform?” Virtual Mentor 6, no. 9. http:// Wennberg, John. 2004. “Practice Variations and Health Care Reform: Connecting the Dots.” Health Affairs. Web exclusive, 7 October. WHO. 2000. World Health Report 2000, Health Systems: Improving Performance. Geneva: World Health Organization. ______. 2006. “The Current State of World Health.” (Excerpted from 2004 report on global health by the World Health Organization.) Pp. 356–363 in Rothenberg 2006. Yamin, Alicia E. 2000. “Protecting and Promoting the Right to Health in Latin America: Selected Experiences from the Field.” Health and Human Rights 5, no. 1: 116–148.




7 Jefferson C. Boyer is Professor of Anthropology and founder of the Sustainable Development Program at Appalachian State University. He writes on Honduran, Central American, and Appalachian agrarian movements, rural development, and sustainability issues. He is a board member of the Highlander Research and Education Center in New Market, Tennessee. He is currently co-editing the conference proceedings (2004, Appalachian State University) for the anthology What Justice? What Sustainability? Perspectives on Contemporary Appalachian and Latin American Social Movements, and is finishing a manuscript entitled Agrarian Honduras: Struggles for Another Modernity. Hilary Cunningham is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto. She has written numerous articles on international boundaries, the politics of state sovereignty at borders, and social movements. More recently, her work has focused on the environmental effects of free trade at the US-Mexico and US-Canadian borders, as well as the emergence of new forms of environmental activism in border regions. Her publications include God and Caesar at the Rio Grande (1995), and she has co-edited (with Josiah Heyman) a special edition of Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power (2004).

Notes on Contributors


Flora Lu is an Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a joint position in the Department of Anthropology and Curriculum in Ecology, as well as a Faculty Fellow at the Carolina Population Center. She has conducted research on human ecology and political ecology in Ecuador’s Amazon since 1992. Recent articles include “The Catch-22 of Conservation: Indigenous Peoples, Biologists and Culture Change” (2005), “Pressure on the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve: Development and Land Use/Land Cover Change in the Northern Ecuadorian Amazon” (2006), and, with Jason Bremner, “Common Property among Indigenous Peoples of the Ecuadorian Amazon” (2006). Donald M. Nonini is Professor of Anthropology and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Anthropology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He has published numerous books, articles, and book chapters on Southeast Asian state formation, the cultural politics of Chinese transnationalism in and from Southeast Asia, and local politics in the southern United States. Recent articles include “Diasporas and Globalization” (2005) and “Indonesia Seen by Its Outside Insiders: Its Chinese Alters in Transnational Space” (2006). His latest book, co-written with Dorothy Holland et al., is Local Democracy Under Siege: Activism, Public Interests and Private Politics (2007). John Pickles is the Earl N. Phillips Distinguished Professor of International Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. His research and teaching deal with regional economic transformation in Eastern Europe, ethnicity, violence and economic change, and critical theory and cultural studies. He has published numerous articles in these fields, as well as several books, including A History of Spaces: Cartographic Reason, Mapping, and the Geo-Coded World (2004) and Environmental Transitions: Transformation and Ecological Defence in Central and Eastern Europe (2000, with Petr Pavlinek).


Notes on Contributors

Stephen B. Scharper is Associate Professor with the Centre for the Study of Religion and Centre for Environment at the University of Toronto, where he is also cross-appointed with the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto at Mississauga. Formerly President of the Religious Education Association of the US and Canada, he is the author of Redeeming the Time: A Political Theology of the Environment (1997) and also co-editor, with Professor Ingrid Stefanovic, of The Natural City: Re-envisioning Human Settlements (forthcoming). Sandy Smith-Nonini, PhD, is a Research Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where she is revising Healing the Body Politic, a book on health and social conflict in El Salvador, supported by a Richard Carley Hunt Fellowship from the Wenner Gren Foundation. Recent articles include “When ‘The Program is Good, But the Disease is Better’: Lessons from Peru on DrugResistant Tuberculosis” (2005) and “Sticking to the Union: ‘Union Maids’ and Anthropologists in San Francisco” (forthcoming).