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The Commons is Dead. Long Live the Commons!

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Is the idea of the commons still relevant in an age of digital transformation and a global pandemic? Recent debates around the future of the commons have focused on the tensions between digital and physical realms, global and local forces, the shrinking of public space, the growth of surveillance, and a post-truth political culture within online filter bubbles. Now, the coronavirus pandemic has witnessed social distancing, the disintegration of physical spaces, societal unrest, mounting inequalities, and the virtual mediation of our civic and social lives – making the idea of the commons more important than ever. If Covid-19 is exposing power imbalances and the instability of our modern economic, political, and environmental systems, it is also providing impetus to new forms of solidarity networks and novel communication tools, together with a surge in mutual aid and community support and a new prominence to debates around universal access to public goods such as healthcare.

Broadly, the modern perception of the commons is the space where shared knowledge and experiences reside for the civic “good” or collective endeavour. By commons we refer not only to the natural environment and its resources, but also to shared social creations (such as public spaces), products of social interaction (like information, culture, knowledges, and affects), new technologies and cyberspace. Importantly, we also attempt to envisage commoning as an ongoing collective practice and ethos that shapes not only what is to be produced, but also the subjects and means involved in that process.

Under these unprecedented conditions we are required to ask whether the commons, as we traditionally think of it, is suffering a tragic decline, or whether it is being reimagined in new ways and new spaces. Is our physical isolation making us realise the fundamental importance of the commons? Could this new reality become the basis for new practices of commoning, from the socialisation of goods, healthcare, and digital content, to radical forms of reciprocity, collective care, and community solidarity?

The virtual conference will inspire discussions on the current modes of constructing, reclaiming, and sharing the commons. Through a series of debates with leading thinkers, artists, activists, and practitioners, we hope to produce a real-time investigation into how to re-invent the commons creatively, collectively, physically, and virtually.

The conference will serve as an open archive, documenting discussions, exchanges, and interventions in order to produce a publication that will arise out of these “commons ateliers”. We invite speakers and participants who are interested in re-imagining the commons today to join us in this collective endeavour.

This talk is part of the CRASSH series.

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