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Reading List EN

RL #011: Commons Sense

Of the commons in theory and practice, in urban traffic and vaccine development – and in french film.

This Oikoplus Reading List comes not as usual in the middle of the month, but with a little delay. Because the Oikoplus team has been busy. As part of Sustainication – Association for Science Communication and Sustainability, we organized a partner meeting at the ArcheoDanube project in Vienna’s new Sonnwendviertel, an area of urban development and renewal.

There was little time for writing a reading list. But being guests for a couple of days in the pleasantly low-traffic new development, we noticed once again how strangely our cities distribute the space they offer.

Don’t you always find it curious how much space is given to cars in our cities? Of course, it could be that the traffic planners of past decades had no idea that there would one day be as many cars as there are today. Nevertheless, they have earmarked enormous amounts of space for car traffic. As a result, the car shapes people’s perception of urban space. And this is reflected culturally, for example in film. Even more, says historian Janosch Steuwer: “For various reasons, film in particular forms a natural ally in the dissemination of unrealistic images of car traffic.” In a readable article in the Swiss online magazine ‘Geschichte der Gegenwart’ (History of the Present), he devotes himself to cinematic images of car traffic.

The question of how much public space society should grant to motorized individual transport repeatedly touches on the concept of the commons. How much space should be public commons, how much space should be privatizable, and what is a fair price for it? Thijs Lijster addresses the tense relationship between the commons and capitalism in an article that can be read on Eurozines. In it, he gives an overview of the debate on the question: What are commons, and what makes them so?

Jacobin magazine uses a very concrete example to illustrate the tension between privatization and socialization, namely the enormous profits from the Covid 19 vaccine. Since this article was unfortunately only published in German, for the English readers of the Reading List here is a link to an English article on the topic from the US edition of Jacobin.

The question of what “belongs” to whom is, of course, not merely a legal question of ownership and possession, but also a social question of access, participation and availability. This becomes particularly clear in the example of traffic space mentioned at the beginning. The Mosaik Blog has published an article on the social aspects of road construction whose density of facts and figures is impressive. After all, this is about science communication.

And to take science communication a bit further: Science has – even if not always – the claim to produce social commons. The Commons Institute, a network of people from research, teaching and practice, has dedicated itself to the principle of commoning and thinking about it. On its website, the institute regularly links to articles worth reading on the topic of commons.

Until the next Reading List. Then hopefully on time again.

Thomas Stollenwerk