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Historical commons as sites of transformation.

Contributed by
Marta Nieto-Romero

A critical research agenda to study human and more-than-human communities in historical commons

This article explores the contemporary role of  historical commons for sustainability transformations. Historical commons have existed in Europe since the Middle Ages, and are composed by plots of land, with arable land, grasslands, shrublands or/and woodlands that are co-used, co-maned and sometimes co-owned by communities. In many parts in Europe, they are now codified through diverse legislative mechanisms. 

Marta Nieto Romero from Re.imaginary, and co-authors Sandra Valente, Elisabete Figueiredo and Constanza Parra build on commoning research and on case studies in Galicia (Spain), to illustrate three types of communities in current historical common and its relation to sustainability: 

  • A ‘household economy community’ mainly divides resources in common, allocating resources between members. Resources (such as pastureland or revenues from wood) are divided by households or members of the community. 
  • A ‘interdependent community’ uses resources for the common, that is, for the well-being of the whole community. The community is mostly concerned on investing time and resources for collective services, and activities for the community (collective meals, or reinvestment for social services are examples of this). 
  • Finally, a ‘more-than-human’ community produces resources of the common. This community produces and cares for the commons sustaining life (regenerating habitats for animals and humans’ sense of purpose, are examples of this). 

While ‘household economy communities’ can be locally sustainable (in the sense of sustained over time), the other two communities can transcend the local and challenge current unsustainable culture, as the following commoner’s quote illustrate: 

I break duality, I am nature, from the moment I hear “nature and us is not the same” I think this is a misappropriation. We are nature. Between me and an oak there is no difference, do you understand? I exist because that oak exists, myself does not end where my skin ends, that is a lie. So those oxygen molecules that enter your nostrils, are you or not? … and the water of your blood? When that water is running through the rivers, is it not that same water as the 75% of water that forms your body?”– commoner (Teis common land, Galicia)

The paper concludes that there is a need to study how these transformative more-than-human communities are hindered or promoted in historical commons (by current legislative mechanisms of social processes). 

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