History of commoning

Most of people’s needs through (pre)history have probably been met through commons, and an estimated 2 billion people today depend for at least part of their livelihood on resources held in common.

Governance typically requires some sort of court, council, commune, ‘Thing’ (parliament) etc, with the capacity to ban people from or make people restore the commons, and enforce proper behaviour in use.

As hunter-gatherer living passed over into settled civilisations – with cities, and administrations with a long reach – basic means of living became increasingly bound in hierarchical and elite systems of authority, ownership and control. But even in European feudalism, for example, ‘common people’ had commoners’ rights on land owned by the Crown or the nobility or the Church: to graze an animal, collect firewood, glean left-over harvests, etc.

Ending such rights – by legal acts of enclosure – was part of the transition to capitalist (commodity) regimes of production. Powerful interests asserted claims for private use, ownership, benefit and control. The state – responsible for the new framework of law – is a key player.

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