Fr. Communs, société civile, acteurs non étatiques

-> Common goods, corporate citizenship, public goods

The concept refers to a very wide field of social aspects which the conventional widom call common knowledge, common practice or common property. It includes profitmaking and nonprofit activities, economic and political facts, legal and traditional dimensions. Related concepts are associations, charities, third sector, nonprofit sector, philanthropy, nongovernmental sector, foundations, civil society, social economy and voluntary action. Research is carried out in many disciplines (social and human sciences, philosophy, history), which makes it a rather multi-, if not transdisciplinary concept.

In the Anglo-American area, common law arose out of custom and conventional practice and the much broader experience of common lands held in joint tenancy or ownership. Some American states are self-identified as Commonwealths. In history, the commons appear to predate both economic and politicial activities (Lohmann 1992). Anthropologists have found that primitive life is seldom the unrelieved struggle for survival projected by modernists. Sahlins (1972) has argued that primitive man may have had relatively large amounts of leisure time used for painting, carving images or making music, punctuated by occasional periods of hunting and gathering to assure survival.

Under from the all-embracing concept of “commons”, Lohmann notes that “terms such as endowment, foundation, benefit, and trustee stretch back hundreds of years and are anchored deep in western culture.”, some of which were borrowed from Latin, like benefice, or fideocommisia or from Greek, like koininia) express important contemporary ideas, but fallen into disuse. The more recent term “new commons” was adopted, he says, in contrast with the more familiar “old” commons in primary industries (agriculture, forestry, forests, fisheries), rural and largely governed within common law, beyond the reach of law, courts, states and cities. By contrast, new commons are typically urban rather than rural, innovative, intentional and deliberately constitutional rather than traditional or customary, operating within regimes of private property ownership and grounded in increasingly universal legal infrastructures that enable and facilitate their formation and continuity.

In the Middle ages, the order that preceded the Wesphalian treaties was based on the dual authority of the Holy Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church, within a form of unity offered by the doctrine advocated by Thomas Aquinas of a God-given natural law above mankind which provided an opportunity for Christian rulers and their subjects to belong to a greater commonwealth. The short-lived English republic ruled by Cromwell from 1649 to 1660 to was declared a Commonwealth, the English state has included A House of Commons of England since the 13th and 14th centuries, and the European Union was first undertaken under the heading of a Common Market.

Paradoxically, the historical development of the commons has moved from the familiar sphere of local associations, groups and charities into the international sphere. It is echoed in Alexis de Tocqueville’s words (1945), who said that “In democratic countries, the science of association is the mother science; the progress of all the others depends on the progress of that one. Among the laws that rule human societies, there is one that seems more precise and clearer than all the others. In order that men remain civilized or become so, the art of associating must be developed and perfected among them in the same ratio as equality of conditions increases.” Again, this statement assigns a centrality to nonprofit or third sector activities in history as in social science.

Today’s public goods in the study of international relations are equated with the supply of private goods in the marketplace (property rights, common standards of measures, international currencies, consistent macroeconomic policies, proper action in case of economic crises, stable exchange rates), while some other goods cannot be provided by the market, such as peace predictability or safety. The concept of nonmarket goods was introduced to third sector studies as a type of common social resource not “owned” by anyone in the legal and philosophical sense. The usual connotation of the term “commons” is related to the constitutive ideas of nonprofit and voluntary action, also called third sector or, more commonly, civil society. The common good in this sense may refer to sports clubs, social movements, political parties, religious, artistic, scientific or athletic societies, humanitarian agencies, information and communication networks, or to many other forms of international associations with nonprofit aims. As an ideal type, the commons are empirically characterized by their altruistic motives and behavior, philanthropy and charity, as well as patronage, donations and gift giving, as well as programmes involving scientific research, education and other ways of disseminatinf knowledge and experience. As expressed by Jeremy Rifkin, supporters of a renewed commons consider that “A new science is emerging whose operating principles and assumptions are more compatible with empathic ways of thinking.The old science views nature as objects;the new science views nature as relationships.The old science ischaracterized by detachment,expropriation, dissection,and reduction;the new science seeks partnership with nature.” (2010, 11)

Collaborative commons
Jeremy Rifkin has introcuded this term to refer to the reemergence of the commons today from an older paradigm of capitalism, in the form of social commons constructed “as an Internet of Things infrastructure that optimizes collaboration, universal access and inclusion, all of which are critical to the creation of social capital and the ushering in of a sharing economy.” The Internet of Things is a game-changing platform that enables an emerging collaborative commons to flourish alongside the capitalist market. This collaborative rather than capitalistic approach is about shared access rather than private ownership. For example, 1.7 million people globally are members of car-sharing services. A recent survey found that the number of vehicles owned by car-sharing participants decreased by half after joining the service, with members preferring access over ownership. Millions of people are using social media sites, redistribution networks, rentals and cooperatives to share not only cars but also homes, clothes, tools, toys and other items at low or near zero marginal cost. The sharing economy had projected revenues of $3.5 billion in 2013.

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