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Report: Can the Commons Save Civilization? By Michel Bauwens (Keynote)

Why are the countries of Switzerland, Austria and Japan still that green? Which transitions are marked by historical events such as the battle of Waterloo, the end of WWII and the current COVID-19 pandemic? Where in history were the commons already creating best practices we can learn from today? Why do we undervalue labor that is not performed within the market or government? To answer all of these – and much more – questions, Michel Bauwens takes us through an elaborate essay, building his plea on why the commons can (or should we say ‘will’) save civilization.


Michel Bauwens explains the concepts of peer-to-peer and commons. Introducing the commons as a human institution which is not the state and not the private marketplace. And already touching upon some of its beneficial characteristics over the market and the state.


Now that the topic of the commons is defined, two frames are being introduced as ways to look at reality and how the commons fit in: 1) the wave pulse theory of history and 2) rethinking the world.

Types of commons

What can we expect when we analyze our status today and try to look what is waiting for us beyond the horizon? In this part of his talk, Michel Bauwens makes an educated attempt by mirroring some of today’s context to historical examples. Walking us through four phases of commons: from natural-resource commons, over social commons and global commons to urban commons. And introducing a fifth phase of commons: cosmo-local production: making things within the context of an ecosystem of the commons. A.o. explaining how in this context the ‘weight’ of a ‘product/object’ is a parameter for how it should be shared (e.g. knowledge is ‘light’, so it should be shared globally).

3rd Frame

Introduction of a third framing: grammar of allocation of resources: i.e. comparing how allocation of resources in the commons (‘commoning’) relates to three other systems of allocation (the gift economy, authority ranking and capitalism/market pricing). And on the role of institutions that are linked to each of them.

Value regime

If we are truly on the transition from an extractive to a regenerative phase, what does that mean for the relationship between institutions, such as the state, the market & civil society? And what can our vocabulary teach us about our value regime? Michel Bauwens explains why our way of naming things and financing them is problematic in view of the commons as a pathway into the future. And what a new value regime could look like.


Illustration of how for-benefit organizations, such as open-source communities are triggering fundamental changes already in our societal institutions and how they are a sign that we are already adapting to the re-emergence of the commons. E.g. ‘the Bologna regulation for the care and regeneration of the urban commons’ and alternative currencies.


In a concluding argument, Michel Bauwens gives an idea of potential scenario’s for change. Based on a quadrant of centralized/global vs decentralized/local and for-profit vs for-benefit, four scenarios emerge: 1) Netarchical capitalism; 2) Distributed capitalism; 3) Global commons and 4) Local resilience. Closing off with the example of the Sovereign Nature Initiative.

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