The German Edition of Our Book, “Frei, Fair und Lebendig”, is Launched

This Friday marks a special date for me – the release of the German version of my new book with Silke Helfrich — Frei, Fair und Lebendig: Die Macht der Commonspublished by transcript Verlag. The English version — Free, Fair and Alive: The Insurgent Power of the Commons – will be published in September by New Society Publishers.

On April 12, the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Berlin, which sponsored the writing of our book, will be hosting a public event to launch the book.
Silke will be there, of course, and after speaking she will have a
conversation with the prominent German sociologist and political
scientist Hartmut Rosa; Robert Habeck, the Federal Chairman of Alliance
’90/The Greens; and Elisabeth von Thadden, editor of DIE ZEIT.

There will be a livestream of the event at 19:30 CET. A 96-second trailer about the German edition of the book can be found here.

We have been working on this book for much of the past three years, so I am thrilled by its completion (from which I am still recovering). Let me hoist a transatlantic toast to my dear friend for her brilliant ideas, warm collegiality, and sheer persistence throughout this odyssey.

will offer a longer introduction to the book as the release of the
English edition draws closer. For now, let me just say that our book is
an ambitious attempt to build on Elinor Ostrom’s work by providing a
deeper understanding of the commons as a living social organism. Our new
framework – the Triad of Commoning — focuses on the commons in three
interrelated aspects – the social, the political (peer governance), and
the economic (provisioning). We also look at how one’s view of elemental
reality shapes one’s sense of political possibility, and how language
plays a critical role in making commoning visible.

This approach emerged after months of
working on our book. Silke and I concluded that we just couldn’t convey
the realities of commoning if we remained captive to the rational-actor,
resource-focused framework used by so many economists. Much of that
language points us in the wrong direction by downplaying or ignoring the
social, personal, and ecological relationships that live at the heart
of a commons.

example, the word “resource” implies something external and inert that
can be bought and sold, or used however one wishes. But to a commoner,
shared wealth such as a forest or river is alive. It has emotional and
cultural meaning. The word “resource” ignores this whole affective
dimension and implies a norm of human dominance. Similarly, to focus on
the individual as the primary agent of action – the lone genius or
leader – overlooks the collaboration and contextual factors that are
essential in a functioning commons.  

To deal with such issues, Silke and I
set out to develop a “relational theory” of the commons, complete with
some new concepts and vocabulary. If we are going to stop destructive
acts of enclosure, if we are going to get beyond the misleading conceits
of standard economics, we need to get beyond the unexamined premises of
market individualism and private property. We need to get beyond the
theory of value that market economics relies on and rethink concepts
such as “development,” “rationality,” and “scarcity.” We must develop
new and richer vocabularies that point to the aspects of commoning that
are typically ignored. We invented the terms “care-wealth,” the
“Nested-I,” and “OntoShift” to name some neglected shifts of
consciousness that commoning entails.

Language is important in building new
cultural understandings for how the world might be structured
differently, so we realized that we need to rethink some of our received
notions of “property.” Instead of seeing property in the traditional
way as private dominion over a “resource” and the exclusion of others,
the idea of “relationalized property” offers an alternative way of
having and using, via a commons. While our book has plenty of new
theoretical concepts, we also worked hard to keep our analysis grounded
in actual examples. One appendix itemizes more than 70 specific commons
that are mentioned in the book.

Silke will soon venture out on a book tour through June with some forty events planned. For those of you in Germany, Austria, or Switzerland (and readers of German), here is Silke’s speaking schedule in the coming months.

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