Story | 23 Apr, 2021

New book: Commons institutions and how they work (or not)

CEESP News: by Prateep Kumar Nayak, Editor, and by Fikret Berkes, University of Manitoba*

Conservation depends on understanding the motivations of people who use biodiversity and practice stewardship. As a shared resource, biodiversity is both a local and a global commons. Commons institutions is what makes sustainability possible. Here commonisation is understood as the process through which a resource becomes jointly used under commons institutions and collective action. Decommonisation refers to the opposite process.   

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Photo: C. Cowan Ros

Andean Indigenous peoples use chaku, a ritualized traditional method to capture herds of vicuna (Vicugna vicugna), a small camelid with very valuable fibre. Once near-extinct, recent commonisation has enabled Indigenous groups to capture, shear, and release vicuna back into the wild, thus conserving populations. From: Chapter 6 by Gabriela Lichtenstein and Carlos Cowan Ros (Photo: C. Cowan Ros).

With an emphasis on the challenges of sustaining the commons across local to global scales, the new book “Making Commons Dynamic: Understanding Change Through Commonisation and Decommonisation”, edited by Prateep Kumar Nayak, examines the empirical basis of theorising the concepts of commonisation and decommonisation as a way to understand commons as a process and offers analytical directions for policy and practice that can potentially help maintain commons as commons in the future.

Built Environment, Environment and Sustainability, Geography, Politics & International Relations, Social Sciences       Photo: TBD
Focusing on commonisation–decommonisation as an analytical framework useful to examine and respond to changes in the commons, the chapter contributions explore how natural resources are commonised and decommonised through the influence of multi-level internal and external drivers, and their implications for commons governance across disparate geographical and temporal contexts.

The book draws from a large number of geographically diverse empirical cases – 20 countries in North, South, and Central America and South- and South-East Asia. They involve a wide range of commons – related to fisheries, forests, grazing, wetlands, coastal-marine, rivers and dams, aquaculture, wildlife, tourism, groundwater, surface freshwater, mountains, small islands, social movements, and climate.

Making Commons Dynamic is a transdisciplinary endeavour with contributions by scholars from geography, history, sociology, anthropology, political studies, planning, human ecology, cultural and applied ecology, environmental and development studies, environmental science and technology, public policy, Indigenous/tribal studies, Latin American and Asian studies, and environmental change and governance, and authors representing the commons community, NGOs, and policy.

Contributors include academics, community members, NGOs, practitioners, and policymakers. Therefore, commonisation–decommonisation lessons drawn from these chapters are well suited for contributing to the practice, policy, and theory of the commons, both locally and globally.

New Book: “Making Commons Dynamic: Understanding Change Through Commonisation and Decommonisation”       Photo: C. Cowan Ros

The live-shearing of endangered vicunas helped conserve the wild populations and at the same time created income for Indigenous Peoples. From: Chapter 6 by Gabriela Lichtenstein and Carlos Cowan Ros (Photo: C. Cowan Ros). The film linked to here shows how Andean Indigenous Peoples capture, shear, and release vicuna back into the wild, thus conserving populations.  

From the Preface to “Making Commons Dynamic”

“Individuals, communities and nations in all regions of the world are experiencing the effects of human-induced changes in their physical and social environments. The highest and the most direct impact of these changes are seen in the case of commons (e.g., fisheries, shellfish beds, coastal spaces, lagoons, mangroves, range lands, forests, groundwater, freshwater systems, irrigation systems, urban spaces, etc.) upon which humans depend for their social, cultural and economic needs.”

“We all, as humans, are linked to some form of commons in our daily lives – we either impact the commons or get impacted by it or experience both. As a result, sustaining the commons remains an ongoing challenge that requires enhanced understanding and innovative approaches… These relationships, interactions and connections between the biophysical and the social (institutional) (sub)systems exposing the complexities in these commons in numerous ways. Forests stand in a place but fish continue to swim; to imagine those diverse things and the manner in which they manifest as commons is not easy.”

“There is no single approach to comprehend the complex intertwining of the multiple components that make or break the commons, and none of these are bound by time and space. To strive to understand and define the commons as something or the other, to put a shape and a dimension to how commons might look like, and to propose a fixed set of rules that can guide how commons might develop, are not only unrealistic but simply impossible propositions. This is why the book defines commons as a multidimensional, complex and continuous process and, to do so, it uses commonisation and decommonisation as novel perspectives.”

“This book is dedicated to all those millions of commoners, in every corner of this world, who tirelessly work to maintain their commons as commons for the future generations.”

For more information or media interviews: Prateep Kumar Nayak can be reached via email.

* Dr. Fikret Berkes is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the Natural Resources Institute, University of Manitoba, Canada. Dr. Berkes’ work deals with social-ecological resilience, commons, co-management, and local and traditional ecological knowledge. His eleven books include Advanced Introduction to Community-based Conservation (Edward Elgar, 2021) and Sacred Ecology (4 th  edition, Routledge, 2018).