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e-flux conversations

Life Always Escapes

What I propose, therefore, is very simple: it is nothing more than to think what we are doing.

—Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition

One way of addressing the question of how to live together is through what we may or may not have in common. Thinking about the common and the in-common, hence, becomes a way of asking how we might find ways of building and sustaining social relations, not through economic transactions, but by establishing relationships to ownership and context in everyday life, through action, labor, and in duration. This text looks to the emergence and use of common land in the context of the British Commons as an entry point for viewing commoning and being in common as a possible, general condition.

The Commons at first appear like an oddity: flat and rather nondescript expanses of grass and trees, urban parks that are not tended too well, with some occasional flowers or beds of ornamental plants. The Commons, however, are not local gardens; they are Common Land—land to which certain customary rights have been attached. The British Commons can be taken as a model of social invention, for sharing resources, ownership, and authority. They are not based on some utopian, free-for-all fantasy of everlasting communal happiness, but are a radical, self-organized, profoundly democratic type of governance. And in this sense the Commons are both physical places—scattered bits of land throughout the map—and a site of struggle and revolutionary thinking, a movement against the privatization of resources and means of subsistence, clusters of an enormous political imaginary directed towards economic and political equity.

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