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Individual Paper: Community-based action for degrowth

Commons and cultural change

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This paper examines links, potential and realised, theoretical and practical, between emerging interests in the commons and growing emphasis on psychological and cultural change among movements for transformation towards a non-growth society. It will present a new theoretical approach and analytical model derived from research on indigenous environmental knowledge and examine the relevance of this approach to transformative social movements in the industrialised world. Its aim is to stimulate discussion on strategic and practical implications for community-led action towards environmental and social transformation and prospects for collaboration with indigenous movements.

Without necessarily recognising or labelling them as such, many grassroots movements for social change increasingly focus on the creation of new physical and cultural commons (Bollier and Helfrich 2012). Examples include community energy projects, alternative currencies, collective land ownership and management, freely available educational resources and social technologies for collective organising. This provides a powerful basis for solidarity, support and mutual learning with indigenous and traditional peoples seeking to defend their own common lands and management institutions from the remorseless expansion of growth-based capitalism (Henfrey and Kenrick 2017). Such indigenous societies provide extant examples of people self-organising for outcomes consistent with sustainability and resilience, with commons a vital ingredient in all documented cases (Berkes 1989; Ostrom 1990).

Detailed study of indigenous environmental management systems based on traditional commons show them to depend on interplay among multiple, simultaneously available modes of information processing (Henfrey 2018). Commons thus embody not just alternative ways of organising for decisions about managing shared resources, but qualitatively different ways of perceiving, understanding and relating to the world. Potential synergy thus exists between initiatives to create new commons and long-standing and growing interest among activists in the psychological and cultural dimensions of social change.

Berkes, F., (ed.) 1989. Common Property Resources. Belhaven Press, London.
Bollier, D. & S. Helfrich (eds.), 2012. The Wealth of the Commons. Commons Strategy Group.
Henfrey. T., 2018 (forthcoming). Edges, Fringes, Frontiers. Berghahn, Oxford. Draft manuscript available at
Henfrey, T. & J. Kenrick, 2017. Climate, Commons and Hope: the Transition movement in global perspective. In Henfrey et al (eds.) Resilience, Community Action and Societal Transformation. Permanent, East Meon.
Ostrom, E., 1990. Governing the Commons. Cambridge.


Day: 2018-08-24
Start time: 11:00
Duration: 00:15
Room: Nöjesteatern (Piano bar)
Track: Subjectivities, Values, Ideas and Satisfactions



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