who cares about the commons?

Download Who Cares about the Commons?

Post on 23-Feb-2017

213 views

Category:

Documents

1 download

Embed Size (px)

TRANSCRIPT

  • This article was downloaded by: [Dalhousie University]On: 09 October 2014, At: 13:54Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number:1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street,London W1T 3JH, UK

    Capitalism NatureSocialismPublication details, including instructionsfor authors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rcns20

    Who Cares about theCommons?Jose JohnstonPublished online: 03 Jun 2008.

    To cite this article: Jose Johnston (2003) Who Cares about the Commons?,Capitalism Nature Socialism, 14:4, 1-41, DOI: 10.1080/10455750308565544

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10455750308565544

    PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE

    Taylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy ofall the information (the Content) contained in the publicationson our platform. However, Taylor & Francis, our agents, and ourlicensors make no representations or warranties whatsoever asto the accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose ofthe Content. Any opinions and views expressed in this publicationare the opinions and views of the authors, and are not the viewsof or endorsed by Taylor & Francis. The accuracy of the Contentshould not be relied upon and should be independently verifiedwith primary sources of information. Taylor and Francis shall not beliable for any losses, actions, claims, proceedings, demands, costs,expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoever or howsoever

    http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rcns20http://www.tandfonline.com/action/showCitFormats?doi=10.1080/10455750308565544http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10455750308565544

  • caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation toor arising out of the use of the Content.

    This article may be used for research, teaching, and privatestudy purposes. Any substantial or systematic reproduction,redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply,or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden.Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions

    Dow

    nloa

    ded

    by [

    Dal

    hous

    ie U

    nive

    rsity

    ] at

    13:

    54 0

    9 O

    ctob

    er 2

    014

    http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionshttp://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions

  • ESSAY

    Who Cares about the Commons?

    By Josbe Johnston*

    1. Introduction: Comparing Sustainable Development and the Commons

    Sustainability has come to imply sustainable profits as much as "saving the earth." Corporate oil and gas executives speak of sustainable fossil fuel emissions. Green entrepreneurs use sustainability claims as a market advantage over competitors. Businesses in multiple sectors - from car manufacturers to energy bars - develop "sustainability plans" for their operations. Given this linguistic hijacking, it becomes unclear how we are to adjudicate amongst competing environmental discourses and ways of life. What can be deemed genuinely sustainable? Is eating a Clif Bar more sustainable than a Power Bar?' Is driving an electric car truly sustainable, or are self-locomotion and public transit the only genuinely sustainable transportation solutions? Which solutions advance biospheric integrity,

    h he author would like to thank John McMurtry, James Goodman, Ulrich Brand, Gordon Laxer, and Ineke Locke and anonymous reviewers at CNS for their helpful commentary on the ideas in this article, as well as acknowledge the financial assistance of a Social Science and Humanities Council of Canada (SSHRC) doctoral and post-doctoral fellowship for this research. This article will appear in a forthcoming volume, R e c 1 a i m i n g Sustainability, edited by JosCe Johnston, Mike Gismondi, and James Goodman, published by Zed Books. h his comparison was made by a sustainability consultant for Clif Bar, Elsya Hammond, who observed that Berkley Based Power Bar had been bought out by Nestle in February 2000, whereas Clif Bar remains a relatively small privately owned company, is GMO-free, contains at least 70 percent organic ingredients, and is aspiring towards 100 percent organic. To see Clif Bar's material on their sustainability commitments, at

  • and which are primarily designed to socialize market externalities and further goals of capital accumulation?

    A narrow line separates meaningful sustainability programs from public relations campaigns. This article provides a framework for analyzing sustainability claims, and argues for the heuristic utility of the commons discourse in this task. Comparing sustainable development and the commons discourses provides tools to evaluate how power, inequality, and ecological devastation are legitimized and perpetuated through discursive construction^.^ Because environmental discourses tell competing stories about the world around us, they affect how societies do and do not respond to ecological ~ r i s e s . ~ Discourses are not static ontological creatures, but reflect ongoing power struggles over relations of ruling. This means that discourses can be poured into very different bottles than when they are first articulatedS4 This article has two tasks: 1) to examine the ongoing struggles to control the terms and limits of sustainable development and commons discourses, and 2) to make some suggestive and preliminary comparisons between these two discourses. This methodology reflects a belief in the importance of understanding the normative and symbolic components of ecological ~ r i s e s , ~ while insisting that discourses do not ethereally float in a separate ontological realm of existence. Analysis of discourse must be accompanied by study of political-ecological variables, such as concentrations of wealth and power and ecological risks6

    2 ~ h e term discourse is used here to refer to "an interrelated set of texts, and the practices of their production, dissemination, and reception, that brings an object into being." Nelson Phillips and Cynthia Hardy, Discourse Analysis: Investigating Processes of Social Construction (Thousand Oaks CA: Sage Publications, 2002), p. 3. The concept of discourse is broader than collective action "frames" used by specific social movement organizations, and constructs limits around what can, and cannot be discussed, understood, and contested. Nancy Naples, "Materialist Feminist Discourse Analysis and Social Movement Research: Mapping the Changing Context for 'Community Control,"' in D. Meyer, N. Whittier, and B. Robnett, eds., Social Movements: Identity, Culture, and the State (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 226-246. 3 ~ o h n Dryzek, The Politics of the Earth. Environmental Discourses (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997). 4 ~ a p l e s , op. cit. S ~ o b y Smith, The Myth of Green Marketing: Tending Our Goats at the Edge of Apocalypse (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998). 6 ~ n y discourse analysis must make clear that linguistic relationships are never simply "empty" metaphors, unconnected to some "real" world of physical plants and animals. Social constructs both shape empirical reality,

    Dow

    nloa

    ded

    by [

    Dal

    hous

    ie U

    nive

    rsity

    ] at

    13:

    54 0

    9 O

    ctob

    er 2

    014

  • While the sustainability lexicon is now ubiquitous in business circles, the discourse of "the commons" has rising cultural cachet within the global justice m ~ v e m e n t . ~ Goldman's survey of the term concludes:

    The commons - a material and symbolic reality, always changing, never purely local or global, traditional or modern, and always reflecting the vibrant colors of its ecological, political cultural, scientific and social character - is not at all disappearing into the dustbin of history. The contrary, we find that the commons are increasingly becoming a site for robust and tangible struggles over class, gender, nationlethnicity, knowledge, power and, of course, n a t ~ r e . ~

    As global warming becomes an undeniable reality there is increasing discussion about a "global atmospheric commons," while discussion of the rainforests are frequently described as part of

    and are simultaneously constituted by that reality. Pierre Bourdieu, In Other Words: Essays Towards a Reflexive Sociology (Oxford: Polity Press, 1990), p. 130. In his work on the ethics of place, Smith forcefully resists the idea that moral spaces are simply metaphors, insisting that "our ethical architecture forbids or facilitates behavior just as effectively as walls or windows." Mick Smith, "Against the Enclosure of the Ethical Commons: Radical Environmentalism as an 'Ethics of Place,"' Environmental Ethics, 18, Winter, 1997, p. 341. 7 ~ h e "global justice movement" is one term used by activists to describe the movement against corporate globalization, or anti-globalization movement. The movement is also referred to as "globalization from below," and "world civil society," among other terms. g ~ i c h a e l Goldman, "Introduction: The Political Resurgence of the Commons," in M. Goldman, ed., Privatizing Nature: Political Struggles for the Global Commons (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1998), p. 14.

    Dow

    nloa

    ded

    by [

    Dal

    hous

    ie U

    nive

    rsity

    ] at

    13:

    54 0

    9 O

    ctob

    er 2

    014

  • humani ty ' s " common lung^."^ An International Forum on Globalization publication on alternatives to globalization contains a section on the privatization of life, and "reclaiming the commons."10 In their critique of modern development projects, Gustavo Esteva and Madhu Suri Prakash identify "people's power" embodied in the struggle