Rethinking the Commons: From Nondualist Ontologies to Use without Law

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 09:50
Location: Hörsaal 50 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Luigi PELLIZZONI, University of Pisa, Italy
A major effect of neoliberalism and its obsession with commodification and marketization has been – in a Polanyian double movement fashion – to stimulate an ever-growing debate on the commons. The theme has been traditionally important to environmental sociology, even though the discipline has possibly worked more with the categories of public-private or state-market-civil society, leaving a larger room to institutional economics (e.g. Ostrom), philosophy (e.g. Hardt and Negri) development studies (e.g. Escobar) and anthropology (e.g. Descola). Today the debate gives growing relevance to nondualist ontologies, as allegedly a (or the) crucial feature of the commons. For many, these offer an alternative to the dominant destructive, proprietary relationship with the biophysical world precisely to the extent that they consist of and enact inextricably compounded human-nonhuman communities.

Yet there is evidence that nondualism has no warranted ‘emancipatory’ implications. Nondualist ontologies are crucial to new dominative orientations, while the non-Western ontologies on which many rely take the shape of ‘invented traditions’ (Hobsbawn) belonging to the problematization against which they are mobilized. There is also evidence, both historical (e.g. Linebaugh) and theoretical (e.g. Esposito), that the communal does not automatically prevent injustice and domination.

Environmental sociology, then, is possibly a good place where a considered assessment of the present debate – more attentive to the power/knowledge dynamics implied in the alleged (re)discovery of different forms of life – can be carried out. To this purpose the paper will review the notion of the commons by reflecting on what is arguably its key element: free access according to need and with respect for the needs of the others. Such element brings to the forefront the question of ‘use’, and the role of law therein. The ‘Charter of the Forest’ and Franciscanism indicate possible directions for inquiry.