I was invited to give a talk at two recent conferences, the Berlin Commons Conference, and FSCONS 2010. It's generally a pleasure to accept these invitations, although I must confess that I found two major conferences with only two days between them a trifle demanding in terms of mental and physical stamina.
Indeed, both conferences were extremely stimulating, and I met many interesting people at both. However, more than anything, I was struck by huge and fundamental differences between them.
The Berlin Commons Conference was essentially the first of its kind, and a bold attempt to put the concept of the commons on the map. Of course, readers of this blog will already know exactly where to locate it, but even for many specialists whose disciplines include commons, the idea is still strange. The conference wisely sought to propel the commons into the foreground by finding, er, common ground between the various kinds of commons, and using that joint strength to muscle into the debate.
That sounded eminently sensible to me, and is something I have been advocating in my own small way (not least on this blog) for some time. But on the ground, achieving this common purpose proved much harder than expected.
In my view, at least, this was down largely to the gulf of incomprehension that we discovered between those working with traditional commons - forests, water, fish etc. - and the digital commons - free software, open content, etc. Basically it seemed to come down to this: some of the former viewed the latter as part of the problem. That is, they were pretty hostile to technology, and saw their traditional commons as antithetical to that.
By contrast, I and others working in the area of the digital commons offered this as a way to preserve the traditional, analogue commons. In particular, as I mentioned after my talk at the conference (embedded below), the Internet offers one of the most powerful tools for fighting against those - typically big, rich global corporations - that seek to enclose physical commons.
I must say I came away from the Berlin conference a little despondent, because it was evident that forming a commons coalition would be much harder than I had expected. This contrasted completely with the energising effect of attending FSCONS 2010 in Gothenburg.
It's not hard to see why. At the Swedish conference, which has been running successfully for some years, and now attracts hundreds of participants, I was surrounded by extremely positive, energetic and like-minded people. When I gave my talk (posted below), I was conscious that intentionally provocative as I was, my argument was essentially pushing against an open door: the audience, though highly critical in the best sense, were in broad agreement with my general logic.
Of course, that can make things too easy, which is dangerous if it becomes routine; but the major benefit of being confirmed in your prejudices in this way is that it encourages you to continue, and perhaps even to explore yet further. It has even inspired me to start posting a little more prolifically. You have been warned....
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