The Commons Rising

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The Commons Rising

SOCI-42 / Spring 2010

Chapin 203 Wednesdays, 2:00 - 4:30 pm

David Bollier, Visiting Lecturer / 259-2009

Office hours: Tuesday 10 - noon or by appointment, at 204 Morgan Hall

Course Description
The commons has long been regarded as a side-theme of English history and a cautionary fable about the over-exploitation of shared resources (“the tragedy of the commons”). In recent years, however, the commons has been rediscovered as a versatile paradigm of self-governance and resource management. In circumstances as varied as open source software, Wikipedia, ocean fisheries, indigenous cultures, fresh water supplies and public spaces -- and in countries from Brazil and India to Germany and the United States -- self-organized communities are developing their own commons as practical alternatives to markets and government. Some see the commons as a way to challenge the privatization and commodification of shared resources (“enclosures”); others see it as a practical tool for re-imagining governance and ecological stewardship in the face of market and government failures. Still others see the commons as a way to reintegrate the psychic and cultural wounds of modernity.
This course will survey the political and economic history of the commons, its strengths and limitations over the centuries, and its burgeoning contemporary manifestations. We will be guided by the writings of Elinor Ostrom, Peter Linebaugh, Yochai Benkler, Lawrence Lessig, Peter Barnes, Lewis Hyde and David Bollier as well as by a range of films, essays and Web resources. The course will have direct conversations with policy experts, academics and activists who are at the forefront of commons work, and confront the ambiguities and perplexities of this still-emerging realm of thought and action.
Course Requirements

Three essays or one research/term paper.

Each student will be required to write three essays of 5-7 pages each, reflecting on various themes raised by the readings and discussed in class. The specific topics for each paper will be handed out in class. Essays will be due on March 8, April 12 and May 3 and should be submitted by 5 pm on those dates as hard copies deposited in my mailbox in Morgan Hall and as email attachments sent to (Students from other colleges may submit papers by email alone.)

If you wish to explore a particular commons-related theme in depth, you may elect to do a single term paper instead of the three essays. However, any student choosing this option should do so by February 17, and should consult with me to refine the topic and work out a research plan. Students electing this option should also plan to meet with me two additional times (or more, if necessary) during the semester to review progress on research and writing.
Class participation.

As a seminar course, The Rise of the Commons will require active participation in class discussions and attendance at every class, especially because we will meet only once a week. It is imperative that you prepare for class by doing the required readings each week and by posting on the course website questions raised by the readings.

Books to purchase

The following books should be available at Amherst Books:

David Bollier, Silent Theft: The Private Plunder of Our Commons Wealth

David Bollier, Viral Spiral: How the Commoners Built a Digital Republic of Their Own

Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property

Peter Barnes, Capitalism 3.0

Jennifer Washburn, University Inc.

Michael F. Brown, Who Owns Native Culture?

Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation [available as e-reserve, but also at Amherst Books]

Peter Linebaugh, The Magna Carta Manifesto [available as e-reserve, but also at Amherst Books]

All other readings will be available at the Frost Reserve Desk or as e-reserves. Occasionally, short readings will be posted on the course website or handed out in class.
Supplementary readings. Since discussion will invariably take us beyond the scope of the readings, a wiki-style bibliography of supplementary readings will be available on the course website. You are encouraged to consult these works and add new listings, as warranted. You are also encouraged to consult websites such as,,, and
Grading. Course grades will be calculated in the following manner:

Essay #1: 25%

Essay #2: 25%

Essay #3: 25% Or a single term paper: 75%

Class participation: 25%

January 27 Introduction

Overview of the course, class procedures, expectations.

Introduction to the commons as a emerging field of inquiry, politics, activism and culture.

February 3 Varieties of Commons / The Commons as a Political Agenda

Donald M. Nonini, “The Global Idea of ‘the Commons’ ” (pdf, course website)

David Bollier, “A New Politics of the Commons,” Renewal, 2007 (e-reserve).

Tomales Bay Institute, State of the Commons and The Commons Rising reports (handouts) blog posts: browse site

Ivan Illich, “Silence is a Commons,” at

Bollier and Racine, “Ready to Share: Creativity in Fashion & Digital Culture,” at

February 10 Property & Commons / The Gift Economy
C.B. MacPherson, editor, Property, Chapters 1-3, pp. 1-37; and

Morris Cohen, Chapter 10, “Property and Sovereignty,” pp. 153-176.

Carol Rose, Property and Persuasion: Essays on the History Theory and Rhetoric of Ownership,

Introduction and Chapters 1, pp. 1-23.

Garrett Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons” Science, May 1, 1968, pp. 682-68.

Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property, Introduction - Chapter 5, pp. xi - 92.

David Bollier, Silent Theft, Chapter 2, “The Stubborn Vitality of the Gift Economy,” pp. 27-42.

February 17 The History of Commons & Enclosure
Peter Linebaugh, The Magna Carta Manifesto, Introduction - Chapter 4, pp. 1-93.

Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation, Chapters 3-15, pp. 33-191.
First paper assigned; due March 8

February 24 The Dynamics of Modern Enclosure / Governing the Commons
Bollier, Silent Theft, Chapters 4, 5 and 6, pp. 59-98.

Elinor Ostrom, Governing the Commons, Chapters 1-3, pp. 1-102.

Margaret Jane Radin, Contested Commodities, Chapters 1-3, pp. 1-45.

Agnès Varda, The Gleaners and I [documentary film]

March 3 Land as a Commons / Water as a Commons
Eric T. Freyfogle, The Land We Share, Intro. - Chapter 1, pp. 1-36; Chapters 4 - 10, pp. 101-201.

Maude Barlow, “Our Water Commons: Toward a New Freshwater Narrative” [report], 2009.

Adam Davidson-Harden, et al., “Alternatives for Local Control of Water Commons” [report].

José A. Rivera, Acequia Culture, pp. 25-40 and pp. 49-62.

Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman, Thirst [documentary film]
Guest Speaker, by phone: Anil Naidoo, Blue Planet Project
First paper due Monday, March 8

March 10 The Atmosphere and Commons Trusts
Peter Barnes, Capitalism 3.0: A Guide to Reclaiming the Commons, pp. 1-116.

Peter Barnes, Who Owns the Sky? pp. 1-78.

Guest speaker, by phone: Peter Barnes
March 13 - 21

Spring recess

March 24 The Second Enclosure Movement

William Patry, Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars, Chapters 1 - 4, pp. 1-96.

Bollier, Brand Name Bullies: The Quest to Own and Control Culture, Part I, pp. 1-79, and Part III,

pp. 145-196.

Carrie McLaren, The Illegal Art Exhibit [DVD]
Second paper assigned; due on Friday, April 12

March 31 The Internet as a Super-Commons
Lawrence Lessig, The Future of Ideas, Part I, “Dot-Commons,” pp. 19-99.

Bollier, Silent Theft, Chapter 7, “Can the Internet Commons Be Saved?” pp. 99-118.

Bollier, Viral Spiral, Chapter 1, “In the Beginning Was Free Software,” pp. 23-41.

Richard Stallman, “The GNU Manifesto,” at

Eben Moglen, “Anarchism Triumphant: Free Software and the Death of Copyright,”

First Monday, August 2, 1999, at

Bollier, Viral Spiral, Chapters 2, “The Discovery of the Public Domain,” pp. 42-68.

Hess & Ostrom, Understanding Knowledge as a Commons, Introduction, pp. 3-26.

April 7 New Genres of Collaborative Creativity / The Economics of Online Sharing
Bollier, Viral Spiral, Chapters 4, 5 and 6, “Inventing the Creative Commons,

“Navigating the Great Value Shift,” and “Creators Take Charge,” pp. 93-167.

Kembrew MacLeod, Copyright Criminals [DVD on remix music]
Bollier, Viral Spiral, Chapter 10, “The New Open Business Models,” pp. 229-252.

Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks, Part I, “The Networked Information Economy,”

pp. 29-127.

Michel Bauwens, “The Political Economy of Peer Production, Post-Autistic Economics Review,

April 2006, article 3, pp. 33-44, at
Second paper due on Friday, April 12

April 14 Academia as a Commons
Jennifer Washburn, University Inc., Introduction - Chapter 5, pp. 1-136; and Chapter 9, pp. 225-241.

Bollier, Silent Theft, Chapter 9, “Enclosing the Academic Commons,” pp. 139-146.

Bollier, Viral Spiral, Chapters 11 and 12 (on open education and open science), pp. 253-293.

Third paper assigned; due Monday, May 3

April 21 Media Commons / Enclosures of Identity: Places, Spaces, Food & Antiquity
Robert McChesney, “The Battle for the U.S. Airwaves, 1928-1935,” Chapter 6, pp. 157-180,

and Chapter 15, pp. 341-354, in The Political Economy of Media: Enduring Issues, Emerging Dilemmas.

Snider, J.D., “The Cartoon Guide to Federal Spectrum Policy,” New America Foundation,

2004, at

Guest speaker: Josh Silver, Free Press
James Cuno, Who Owns Antiquity? Preface & Chapter 1, pp. 1-43.

Joseph Sax, Playing Darts with Rembrandt, Chapters 4-6, pp. 48-92

Bollier, Silent Theft, Chapter 10, pp. 147-162.

Carlo Petrini, Slow Food: The Case for Taste, pp. 1-63.

Juan Friere, “From the Analog Commons to the New Hybrid Public Spaces,” at\

April 28 International Politics and the Commons

Crottorf Castle report of international retreat on the commons, at

Alain Lipietz essay on the commons, at

Barcelona Charter for Innovation, Creativity and Access to Knowledge, at

World Social Forum, “Reclaim the Commons,” at

Commons Manifesto: “Strengthen the Commons. Now!” [Germany] at

Michael F. Brown, Who Owns Native Culture? Introduction - Chapter 2, pp. 1-68.

Vandana Shiva, Protect or Plunder? Understanding Intellectual Property Rights, pp. 1-133.

Bollier, Viral Spiral, Chapter 9, “The Many Faces of the Commons,” pp. 203-226.

David Martin: Global Innovation Trust and heritable trusts for indigenous peoples

Peter Drahos and John Braithwaite, Information Feudalism

Anupam Chander and Madhavi Sunder, “The Romance of the Public Domain,”

California Law Review, (2004), pp. 1341+.
Guest speaker: Silke Helfrich, German commons writer and activist.
Third paper due on Monday, May 3

Term papers due on Monday, May 3 (for those choosing this option)

May 5 Student Presentations of Term Papers / Review of the Commons Today

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