commoners in Sollfrank 2018


In his analysis of the Russian shadow libraries Balazs has drawn a parallel to
the commons as an alternative mode of ownership and a collective way of
dealing with resources. The growing interest in the discourses around the
commons demonstrates the urgency and timeliness of this concept. The
structural definition of the commons conceived by political economist Massimo
de Angelis allows for its application in diverse fields: “Commons are social
systems in which resources are pooled by a community of people who also govern
these resources to guarantee the latter’s sustainability (if they are natural
resources) and the reproduction of the community. These people engage in
‘commoning,’ that is a form of social labour that bears a direct relation to
the needs of the people, or the commoners”.27 While the model originates in
historical ways of sharing natural resources, it has gained new momentum in
relation to very different resources, thus constituting a third paradigm of
production—beyond state and private—however, with all commoning activities
today still being embedded in the surrounding economic system.

As a reason for the newly aroused interest in the commons, de Angelis provides
the crisis of global capital, which has maneuvered itself into a systemic
impasse. While constantly expanding through its inherent logic of growth and
accumulation, it is the very same logic that destroys the two systems capital
relies on: non-market-shaped social reproduction and the ecological system.
Within this scenario de Angelis describes capital as being in need of the
commons as

on a
culture of collecting, organizing, curating, and sharing content.”36 And by
doing so, he produces major contradictions, or rather he allows the already
existing contradictions to come to light. The artistic archives and libraries
are precarious in terms of their legal status, while it is exactly due to
their disregard of copyright that cultural resources could be built that
exceed the relevance of most official archives that are bound to abide the
law. In fact, there are no comparable official resources, which is why the
function of these projects is at least twofold: education and preservation.37

Maybe UbuWeb and the other, smaller or larger, shadow libraries do not qualify
as commons in the strict sense of involving not only a non-market exchange of
goods but also a community of commoners who negotiate the terms of use among
themselves. This would require collective, formalized, and transparent types
of organization. Furthermore, most of the digital items they circulate are
privately owned and therefore cannot simply be transferred to become commons
resources. These projects, in many respects, are in a preliminary stage by
pointing to the _ideal of culture as a commons_. By providing access to
cultural goods and knowledge that would otherwise not be available at all or
inaccessible for large parts of the general public, they might even fulfill
the function of a “commons fix”, to a certain degree, but at the same time
they are the experimental zone needed to unlearn copyright and relearn new
ways of cultural production and dissemination beyond the property regime. In


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