Hardt and Negri on Sharing

Source: Livin’ in the Bike Lane.

Democratic commons ...

“A democracy of the multitude is imaginable and possible only because we all share and participate in the common. By ‘the common’ we mean, first of all, the common wealth of the material world — the air, the water, the fruits of the soil, and all nature’s bounty — which in classic European political texts is often claimed to be the inheritance of humanity as a whole, to be shared together. We consider the common also and more significantly those results of social production that are necessary for social interaction and further production, such as knowledges, languages, codes, information, affects, and so forth. This notion of the common does not position humanity separate from nature, as either its exploiter or its custodian, but focuses rather on the practices of interaction, care, and cohabitation in a common world, promoting the beneficial and limiting the detrimental forms of the common. In the era of globalization, issues of the maintenance, production, and distribution of the common in both these senses and in both ecological and socioeconomic frameworks become increasingly central.” (p. viii)

Private/public and capitalist/socialist as false alternatives ...

“The seemingly exclusive alternative between the private and the public corresponds to an equally pernicious political alternative between capitalism and socialism. It is often assumed that the only cure for the ills of capitalist society is public regulation and Keynesian and/or socialist economic management; and, conversely, socialist maladies are presumed to be treatable only by private property and capitalist control. Socialism and capitalism, however, even though they have at times been mingled together and at others occasioned bitter conflicts, are both regimes of property that excluded the common. The political project of instituting the common ... cuts diagonally across these false alternatives.” (p. ix)

Power is embodied in property and capital, and embedded in law ...

“A kind of apocalypticism reigns among the contemporary conceptions of power, with warnings of new imperialisms and new fascisms. Everything is explained by sovereign power and the state of exception, that is, the general suspension of rights and the emergence of a power that stands above the law. ... The problem with this picture is that its focus on transcendent authority and violence eclipses and mystifies the really dominant forms of power that continue to rule over us today — power embodied in property and capital, power embedded in and fully supported by the law.” (pp. 3-4)

Definition of biopolitics ...

“We adopt a terminological distinction, suggested by Foucault’s writings but not used consistently by him, between biopower and biopolitics, whereby the former could be defined (rather crudely) as the power over life and the latter as the power of life to resist and determine an alternative production of subjectivity (p. 57) ... which not only resists power but also seeks autonomy from it.” (p. 56)

Sharing increases capacity ...

“[B]iopolitical production is not constrained by the logic of scarcity. It has the unique characteristic that it does not destroy or diminish the raw materials from which it produces wealth. Biopolitical production puts bios to work without consuming it. Furthermore its product is not exclusive. When I share an idea or image with you, my capacity to think with it is not lessened; on the contrary, our exchange of ideas and images increases my capacities.” (p. 284)

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in Commonwealth, 2011

This is part of the Polis collection of quotes that relate to cities in a variety of ways. We welcome you to add others any time.

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  1. Interesting how, perhaps due to the rise of privatization, 'common' also means nondistinctive, ubiquitous, second-rate (as in 'commoners' vs upper classes) even though it originally means 'belonging to all'. Are things that belong to all really destined to be second-rate?

    1. Good point, and I think the answer to your question is a resounding no.

      Elinor Ostrom has shown that people can indeed share resources and do a good job of managing them.

      Real-world examples abound. Linux operating systems are awesome, diverse, well-supported. Community gardens are thriving all over America. Wikipedia works (knowledge is the commons here). Technical online forums work.

      But the right incentives and institutions must be in place. It's hard to have commons in communities in which repeated interactions are rare, social relations are short-lived, and the possibility of defecting from commitments without retribution is strong.

  2. i see how both private and public systems can be abusive of power, but there must be some limits to the common. it seems that sharing has to be voluntary, but sometimes it also needs prodding in the form of law.

  3. I don't understand why the common shouldn't fall within the public. If it doesn't, who governs it? Who takes care of it? Those who use and care about it? But what if they don't?

  4. http://donalforeman.com/texts/6594-commonwealth.pdf

  5. In general, it seems like allowing ideas and resources to enter the commons produces substantial positive externalities (as long as the resources are nonrival).

    Indeed, evolutionary biologists often talk about the positive feedback loops that occur when people share their resources with others without expectations of direct compensation: such actions can induce more sharing, more trust, more reciprocity, and more efficient exchange.

    This, in turn, could generate economies of scale that otherwise would not exist

    I.e. computer code might generate economies of scale, as the more it is used, the more support there is for it, the easier it is for large groups of people to develop complementary programs based on it, etc.

    Or publishing academic research papers for free might greatly expand the population that can access them and comment on them, which might produce knowledge spillovers and, again, economies of scale, but this time in the production of new research.