The Earth seen from Apollo 17

This seminar explores the concept of the "common(s)" in relation to social, environmental, and digital issues and politics. It covers various definitions and interpretations of the common(s), including its application in the context of "digital commons" and decentralized resource management. The seminar includes presentations, debates, case studies, and discussions about socio-technical and socio-environmental alternatives to existing enclosures of natural and digital goods.

Course details[edit | edit source]

  • Details: University of Notre Dame, Anthropology dept. (Fall 2022) Tuesdays & Thursdays: 5:05 to 6:20pm (EST)
  • Location: Hesburgh Library, room 246—Hesburgh Library, room 235 (on Oct. 6 and Nov. 3 exceptionally)
  • Office Hours: Wednesdays, 11ː00-12ː00 and by appointment (on and off-line). Corbett Hall, 238

Instructor & Guest Speakers[edit | edit source]

  • LF Murillo (instructor), University of Notre Dame
  • Erin McElroy, University of Texas, Austin
  • Evelin Heidel, Wikipedia Uruguay
  • Emilio Velis, Appropedia Foundation
  • Alex Stinson, Wikimedia Foundation
  • Michelle Thorne, Green Web Foundation
  • Shannon Dosemagen, Open Environmental Data Project

Description[edit | edit source]

The concept of the "commons" has returned to the focus of socio-environmental research, politics, and theorizing with recent debates on climate crisis and justice. From the late 1960s debates on environmental degradation and overpopulation to the present concerns with social change, economic degrowth, and global warming, the "commons" has returned as a key symbol for social analysis, political organizing, and collective resource management. Since then, various currents have claimed and reclaimed the concept under the guide of "communality," "conviviality," "common-pool resources," and the "common" as concrete alternatives to public and private modes of governance.

In the past two decades, the concept has been central as well for the discussion of the "digital commons" with decentralized, community-based governance of online resources. In this seminar, we will map out key definitions of the "commons" to examine socio-technical and socio-environmental alternatives to existing enclosures across a wide range of examples (including, but not limited to land, tools, forests, lakes, heirloom seeds, potable water, fish stocks, software, hardware, and much more).

The seminar will be organized around presentations by students and guest speakers, followed by debate of concepts, case studies, and methodological approaches in socio-environmental and digital commons research. We welcome advanced undergraduates and graduate students working on open technologies, environmental research, climate change, conservation, and sustainability to join the seminar.

Course objectives[edit | edit source]

This seminar is driven by what we bring to the classroom. This means in practice and in theory (in praxis) that we will always make an effort to ground our discussion in our shared (research / applied) experiences. By the end of the course, you should be able to:

  1. Identify key approaches in the study of the commons;
  2. Describe and apply key concepts from the literature on the commons;
  3. Examine socioeconomic, technical, political, and environmental aspects of the commons in your own research.

Our seminar is organized in weekly modules with readings and extra materials (podcasts, documentaries). For each week, we will have one or more students assigned to conduct the debate of the materials. Each presenter or group of presenters will prepare pros, cons, and questions about the assigned materials and help conduct a debate. For certain topics, we will have the opportunity to debate with expert practitioners who have been working in the commons for more than a decade. They will come regularly to our seminar as guest speakers, but will also join us for the discussion of final projects. The ultimate goal is to make the coursework work for you, not the other way around. As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan once wrote (pace Buckminster Fuller), "there are no passengers on spaceship earth, we are all crew." The same applies to our seminar: everyone is expected to participate in the debate of our weekly topics.

You will find everything we need for this course hereː there is no need to purchase books or supplementary materials.

Assignments[edit | edit source]

Final grades will be determined based on the following assignmentsː

  • Attendance and participation (20%): each seminar participant will bring questions about the readings for debate in class
  • In-class presentations (20%): every week an assigned group of discussants will present pros, cons, and questions based on our weekly readings
  • Wikipedia assignment (20%): with help from our guest speakers and the instructor you will identify 3 articles on Wikipedia that are related to your research interest, but also related to one of the weekly topics of our seminar (global commons, commons depletion, digital commons, etc.), and choose one to improve. You will be instructed on how to contribute to Wikipedia before you turn in the assignment.
  • Midterm assignment (20%)ː you will identify and describe a controversy regarding a commons in your area of professional or research interest. You will use the references we discussed in class plus the Wikipedia articles to prepare your midterm assignment. This description can be shortː from 4 to 6 pages double-spaced. Make sure to describe the controversy and its importance to the study of the commons
  • Final assignment (20%): you will prepare a final essay that uses three or more concepts we examined in class to analyze the controversy you described in your midterm assignment. The format for the final assignment is up to youː you can prepare a paper (8 pages or more, double-spaced, serif font 12pt) or get creative and prepare something else, such as a research notebook (Jupyter), an infographic, a podcast, a video or audio interview. Whatever works best for your MA or PhD project. The only requirement that you must pay attention to is that your final assignment must show evidence that you have read and understood the materials we discussed in the seminar. If you feel comfortable being included in the OpenClimate sessions, we will showcase your final project in one of our community calls.

The scale the instructor will use to assign the final grade is the followingː

minus unsigned plus
A 90 - 93 94 - 100 -
B 80 - 83 84 - 86 87 - 89
C 70 - 73 74 - 76 77 - 79
D - 65 - 69 -
F - 0 - 64 -

Academic Integrity[edit | edit source]

Before the rise of the intellectual property regime, ideas used to be thought of as candle flames: if we pass them on to each other, we do not extinguish but multiply them. That being said, what we call "Academic Integrity" encompasses not only our commitment to the exchange and debate of ideas but also the importance of acknowledging the work of those who came before us. Another way of thinking about "Academic Integrity" is to use the metaphor of the community well: as academics, we are constantly drawing from common sources of knowledge side-by-side with other people within and outside academia. We do not want the well to dry out or to be poisoned as we need it for our common nourishment. You should feel completely free to use the well, but never forget that it is a shared resource. If you take anything, you should consider return something in one form or the other, which means in practice that, if you were offered a position paper, dataset, software, or any other end product of human effort, you must, at least, recognize the work by citing the source. Here is a guide on how to format your citations. Here is the Honor Code of Notre Dame.

Accommodations & COVID-19 policy[edit | edit source]

Proper support and accommodation is not only a policy of the university, but a responsibility of the instructor and, to a great extent, of all of us in creating a positive and welcoming environment. Please communicate with the instructor if you have questions about disability services or if you would like to request accommodation for your needs. If you have or think you may have a disability do not hesitate to contact the Disability Services for a confidential discussion in the Sara Bea Center for Students with Disabilities; or, by phone at (574) 631-7157. Additional information about disability services and the process for requesting accommodations can be found here.

As we are still in the middle of a tragic pandemic of planetary scope, we must take all the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In our class, we will observe first the orientation of the provost office and, second, the guidelines of the Department of Anthropology. If you feel ill, please contact the university first and then the instructor. Please stop coming to class as soon as you start experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. Any justified absence will not have any impact on your grade. You have to take care of yourself first, which is also, in this case, the best way to take care of others.

Modules[edit | edit source]

Week 1: Commons in question[edit | edit source]

August 23

  • Presentation of the seminar program; introductions; brief presentation of ongoing research projects on the commons; discussion of class projects and potential collaborative work with guest presenters. For this class, we need only to prepare a few paragraphs on our research interests and their relation to the "commons."

August 25

  • De Angelis, Massimo. 2019. "Commons" Inː Khotari et al. Pluriverseː A Post-Development Dictionary. New Delhi, Tulika Books.
  • Film: "Hacking for the commons" (La Bataille du Libre) by Philippe Borrel (2019)

Week 2: Commons as "tragedy"[edit | edit source]

Presenterː Caitlin C.

August 30

September 1

Additional references

Week 3: Commons in precapitalist formations[edit | edit source]

September 6

September 8

Additional references

Week 4: Commons as a matter of collective governance[edit | edit source]

Presenterː Adele B.

September 13

September 15

Additional references

Week 5: Global commons[edit | edit source]

Presenterː Ririko I.

September 20

September 22

Additional references

Week 6: Knowledge commons[edit | edit source]

Invited discussant: Emilio Velis

September 27

September 29

Additional references

Week 7: Commons as public domain[edit | edit source]

October 4

October 6

Meeting at Hesburgh Library, room 235 (exceptionally)

  • Wikipedia workshop: preparation for the mid-term assignmentǃ

Additional references

Week 8: Commons-based peer production[edit | edit source]

Invited discussant: Alex Stinson

October 11

October 13, 2022

Additional references

  • Kelty, Chris. 2011. "Inventing Copyleft." In: Making and Unmaking Intellectual Property: Creative Production in Legal and Cultural Perspective. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
  • Xifaras, Mikhail. 2012. "Copyleft and the theory of property," Multitudes, 2010/2 (No 41), p. 50-64.
  • Documentary "Revolution OS" (2001) by J. T. S. Moore.


  • MIDTERM DUE: October 14 by email to the instructor
  • MIDTERM BREAK: October 15 –  23
  • Enjoy! with the computer off, maybe?:0)


Week 9: "Common" as political principle[edit | edit source]

Invited discussant: Evelin Heidel

October 25

October 27

  • Harvey, David. 2011. "The Future of the Commons." Radical History Review, 2011(109): 101–107.
  • Negri, Antonio and Hardt, Michael. 2019. Assembly. Oxford, Oxford University Press. (Chapter 6: "How to Open Property to the Common")

Additional references

  • Negri, Antonio and Hardt, Michael. 2017. Commonwealth. Cambridge, Harvard Press. (Preface, 1.1 and 2.1)
  • Negri, Antonio and Hardt, Michael. 2004. Multitude. London, Penguin Press. (2.3. Traces of the multitude)

Week 10: "Communality" as anticolonial alternative[edit | edit source]

Presenterː Simona S.

November 1

  • Osorio, Arturo G. 2019. "Comunalidad" Inː Khotari et al. Pluriverseː A Post-Development Dictionary. New Delhi, Tulika Books.
  • Gudynas, Eduardo. 2011. "Buen Vivir: Today's tomorrow" Inː Development, 54(4), (441–447).

November 3

ǃ Meeting at Hesburgh Library, room 235 (exceptionally) ǃ

Additional references

  • Documentaryː "Zapatista" (2013) by Big Noise Films

Week 11: "Commoning" as political practice[edit | edit source]

Invited discussant: Erin McElroy

November 8

  • Heynen, N. 2021. "A plantation can be a commons": Re-Earthing Sapelo Island through Abolition Ecology." Antipode, 53(1), 95–114.

November 10

Additional references

Week 12: Commons privatized and depleted[edit | edit source]

Invited discussant: Shannon Dosemagen

November 15

November 17

Additional references


November 23 – 27

No class on November 22

No presential class, but a recap of the previous debates, so we can return to the question of the commons in face of climate crisis.

Week 13: Climate crisis as common challenge[edit | edit source]

Invited discussantsː Michelle Thorne

November 29

  • Dosemagen, S.; Heidel, E.; Murillo, LF; Velis, E.; Stinson, A. and Thorne, M. 2021. Open Climate Now! In: Branch Magazine (2):2.

December 1

  • Dosemagen, S.; Velis, E.; Murillo, LF; Heidel, E.; Stinson, A. and Thorne, M. 2022. Open Climate Then and Now! In: Branch Magazine (4):4.
  • Select 1 article from the new Branch magazine issue "Open Climate" that is related to your final project to discuss in class.

Additional reading

Final project presentations[edit | edit source]

December 6, December 8 (last class)

  • We will have two final sessions to recap the various debates on the commons / common and workshop the final papersǃ
  • ǃ ǃ ǃ Final exam to be sent by email to the instructor by December 16 ǃ ǃ ǃ

Additional references[edit | edit source]

  • Adams, W., Brockington, D., Dyson, J. and Vira, B. 2003. "Managing Tragedies: Understanding Conflict over Common Pool Resources." Science, 302, (5652) 1915-1916.
  • Aigrain, P., 2010. La réinvention des communs physiques et des biens publics sociaux à l'ère de l'information. Multitudes 41, 42–49.
  • Bateson, Gregory. 1998. Steps to an ecology of the mind. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Benkler, Y., 2013. Practical Anarchism: Peer Mutualism, Market Power, and the Fallible State*. Politics & Society 41, 213–251.
  • Bensaïd, D. 2007. Les dépossédés: Karl Marx, les voleurs de bois et le droit des pauvres. Paris: La Fabrique Éditions.
  • Berkes, F. 1996. "Social systems, ecological systems, and property rights." In: Rights to Nature, S. Hanna, C. Folke and K.-G. Maler, eds.
  • Boyle, J., 2010b. The public domain: enclosing the commons of the mind. Yale University Press, New Haven.
  • Euler, Johannes 2016. "Commons-Creating Society: On the Radical German Commons Discourse." Review of Radical Political Economics 48(1): 93-110.
  • Federici, Silvia and George Caffentzis. 2013. "Commons Against and Beyond Capitalism," Upping the Anti: a Journal of theory and action.  No.  15  (Sept.  2013),  pp. 83-97.
  • Ghosh, R.A., 2005. CODE: collaborative ownership and digital economy. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.
  • Hardt, M., Negri, A., 2011. Commonwealth. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass; London.
  • Hyde, L., 2012. Common as air: revolution, art, and ownership. Union Books, London.
  • Ilahiane, H., 1999. The Berber Agdal Institution: Indigenous Range Management in the Atlas Mountains. Ethnology 38, 21–45.
  • Jaworski, Helan. 1928. Le Géon ou la Terre vivante. Paris: Librairie Gallimard. (selected parts)
  • Latouche, S. 2009. Farewell to Growth. Cambridge: Polity press. (selections)
  • Latour, Bruno. 2020. Facing Gaia: Eight Lectures on the New Climatic Regime. London: Polity.
  • Livingstone, Julia. 2019. Self-Devouring Growth: A Planetary Parable as Told from Southern Africa. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Lovelock, James. 2000. Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Meadows, DH, Meadows, DL, Randers, J, et al. 1972. The Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome's Project on the Predicament of Mankind. New York: Universe Books.
  • Nixon, R., 2012. "Neoliberalism, Genre, and 'The Tragedy of the Commons.'" PMLA 127, 593–599.
  • Pasquinelli, M. 2008. Animal Spirits: A Bestiary of the Commons. NAI Publishers, Rotterdam and the Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam, 2008.
  • Rose, C., 2014. "Surprising Commons". BYU Law Review 2014, 1257–1282.
  • Rose, C., 1986. "The Comedy of the Commons: Commerce, Custom, and Inherently Public Property." Faculty Scholarship Series.
  • Saito K. 2021. "Primitive Accumulation as the Cause of Economic and Ecological Disaster." In: Musto M. (eds) Rethinking Alternatives with Marx. Marx, Engels, and Marxisms. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.
  • Shiva, V., Bandyopadhyay, J., 1986. "The Evolution, Structure, and Impact of the Chipko Movement." Mountain Research and Development 6, 133–142.
  • Standing, G., 2019. Plunder of the Commons. London, Pelican books.
  • Steil, Carlos Alberto and Carvalho, Isabel Cristina de Moura. 2014. "Epistemologias ecológicas: delimitando um conceito." Mana, 20, (1), 163-183.
FA info icon.svg Angle down icon.svg Page data
Authors LF Murillo
License CC-BY-SA-4.0
Organizations University of Notre Dame
Language English (en)
Related 0 subpages, 2 pages link here
Impact 609 page views
Created August 19, 2022 by LF Murillo
Modified February 28, 2024 by StandardWikitext bot
Cookies help us deliver our services. By using our services, you agree to our use of cookies.