The Commons

The Commons

A commons is a resource that is controlled by a community using systematic rules and rights that govern the access, use, and control of the resource. There are many different types, including social or knowledge commons, although most often discussed are material commons or natural resources used by people. These resources are almost always “rival goods” in the sense that their use prevents others from using them; their use is almost always “subtractive” or taking away from the overall amount of resources in the commons. This is the kind of commons that Garrett Hardin famously claimed were heading toward a tragic end due to rapid depletion from over-use by individual actors racing to take as much for themselves as they could. Hardin’s theory discussed natural resource exploitation but lacked reference to any social arrangement; since a commons includes a system of rules governing its use, the kind of free-for-all that Hardin describes is arguably flawed.

Many Indigenous peoples and local communities have customary or recently developed systems in place for utilizing and conserving their material, social, and knowledge commons. Natural Justice works with such communities to assist them in the conservation of their commons, which are integral to their ways of life.

We are also working with communities to develop a model of traditional knowledge commons that seeks to contribute to the increased recognition and respect of the self-determination and sui generis customary laws, particularly with respect to challenges that regularly emerge in discussions with third parties who wish to use their traditional knowledge.

It seeks to correspond to a value system adapted by many communities in which the sharing of knowledge for specific use among peers is deeply integrated into customary law by providing a safe middle ground where traditional knowledge can be promoted and circulated without having to place it either into the public domain where it is subject to a “free-for-all” or deny all access to it entirely.

For example, the Bushbuckridge Traditional Health Practitioners Association has used their biocultural community protocol to develop a type of traditional knowledge commons in which their traditional knowledge is pooled amongst its members and, if shared with research and business, all benefits flow back to all association members.

 

Publications

Imagining a Traditional Knowledge Commons: A Community Approach to Sharing TK for Non-Commercial Research (Natural Justice and IDLO, 2009)
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Implementing a Traditional Knowledge Commons: Opportunities and Challenges (Natural Justice and ABS Capacity Development Initiative for Africa, 2009)
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Collective Action and the Evolution of Social Norms (Ostrom, 2000)
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Common Property Institutions and Sustainable Governance of Resources (Agrawal, 2001)
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Common Voices (Foundation for Ecological Society)
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From Community-based Resource Management to Complex Systems: The Scale Issue and Marine Commons (Berkes, 2006)
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Videos

Biocultural Community Protocols: Articulating and Asserting Stewardship (Moving Images & Natural Justice, 2012)
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Rooibos Robbery: A Story of Bioprospecting in South Africa (Steps Southern Africa, 2012)
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Maldhari Biocultural Community Protocol Photo Story (Sahjeevan & Natural Justice, 2012)
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Biocultural Community Protocols: A Toolkit for Community Facilitators
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