This is our attempt to identify words that are often used uncritically. And yet, they invisibly direct our attention in certain ways while blocking other ways of thinking. It is a glossary of terms that run from mouth to mouth while embeddeding old-paradigm meanings and enacting a broken narrative.
Social scientist Steven Jackson would call them examples of "broken world thinking." (pdf )
#Why do we need such a glossary?
In his “Keywords for the Age of Austerity” (html ), John Pat Leary cites Raymond Williams' 1976 classic, "Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society" (wiki ), to show that certain words "bind together ways of seeing culture and society. These shared meanings change over time,
shaping and reflecting the society in which they are made." The keywords for our time relate to affinity for hierarchy and a celebration of the virtues of competition, 'the marketplace,' and the virtual technologies of our time. This series will explore the historical meanings embedded in these words as well as the new meanings that our age has given them.
Words bring worlds about. And vice versa. We can hardly describe the commons with Broken-World-Words. Or - paraphrasing historian E.P. Thompson (wiki ): It is impossible to talk about the commons in capitalist terms.
- Citizen: Implies that people's identities are in relation to a nation-state, and that non-citizens are somehow "less than" equal peers or perhaps even "illegal." See essay by Kate Reed Petty, "Is It Time to Retire the Word 'Citizen'?" in LA Review of Books blog, April 22, 2017, blog
- Dualities (or dichotomies): Pairs of polar "opposites" that convey the idea of "categories of separation" rather than relational categories. Each pole exhibits different logics suggesting incompatibility. But we can often dissolve or transcend the presumed dichotomies when we experience commoning in a given situation. Example: the polarity of the individual and collective is transcended through the idea and experience of the "Nested-I." -> See also: Misleading Dualities
- Efficiency (TO BE ADDED)
- Governance: Implies a separate class, power group or institutional apparatus that stands over others and governs them, precluding the idea of a governance system that is integrated with and controlled by a group of peers themselves. "Peer governance" is our preferred alternative to unattributed "governance". It differs from "self-governance" though, as "peer" is a relational category whereas "self" might be associated with "the Century of the Self", video
- Innovation: Innovation became a useless buzzword. To put it into Bruce Nussbaum's terms: "Innovation died in 2008, killed off by overuse, misuse, narrowness, incrementalism and failure to evolve." In contemporary usage, the very idea is seen as intrinsically beneficial and progressive. In fact, the celebration of "innovation' reflects the idea of "the newer, the better" and enshrines capital's incessant demands for return on investment and competitive advantage, which are propelled by certain ways of technological and business innovation rather than social and democratic one. The alternative to "innovation" is not its binary opposite, "static and traditional," but rather creative adaptation that is shared, needs-based and convivial.
- Leadership: Implies a (mostly male and single) leader -- bold, courageous, insightful -- who mobilizes "followers" to achieve collective goals that are otherwise unattainable. Such individuals are important, to be sure, but the focus on "leadership" often obscures the inner dynamics of social collectives in actualizing change. For example, the distributed knowledge and open feedback loops within in a commons may be critical to transformations. Or people who function as "super-nodes" (not "leaders") often contribute certain knowledge, talents or acts that catalyze major changes over time. We still don't know how to properly name "leadership" in the commons, it will be linked - among other aspects - to situated knowing.
- Liberalism: According to C.B.Macpherson the main problem with political liberalism is the following idea: "The human essence is freedom from dependence on the wills of others, and freedom is a function of possession. html
- Nonprofit: The term "nonprofit" implies that an organization is virtuous and socially minded -- presumably the opposite of a self-serving for-profit corporation. The underlying assumption or value-judgement is often that non-profits are the somehow good or better guys. But in fact, a nonprofit is simply a tax status that indicates that an organization is not structured to produce market revenue, profits and capital returns. It does not imply any affirmatively good social purpose. Nor does it imply that the social interactions are based on the commons. This is way reproducing capitalism while seeking profit during the day and just giving as a non-profit during the evening work along nicely. (ADD: it is nonsense to speak about Solidarity Economy as not -profit seeking. They need to make profits as they participate in the normal commodity market, they need to profits to meet their goals.)
- Organization: This term often implies a coherent, integrated institution that is coordinated to shared goals and speaks with one voice. But this idea is now being inverted by the power of open networks. Coase's Theorem (wiki ) about the corporate form as a solution to high transaction costs is now being subverted as open and commons-based sharing and value creation provides a more effective and democratic vehicle for minimizing transaction costs. Put another way, trusted communities are moving beyond transactional encounters to trust-based relationships, via improvisational social networks and commons with varying degrees of coherence. Conventional organizations (government & corporate bureaucracies) are finding that the very definition of an "organization" is changing, becoming more fluid, dynamic, and social. Institutional boundaries are becoming more porous and collaborations with "outsiders" more routine. Alternatives? P2P Networks, Federations, Commons Alliances etc.
- Participation. Participation is often understood as a progressive way of governing WITH the people. In fact it goes beyond a charity-approach, which is FOR the people. And yet, it doesn't properly capture the very essence of the commons which is focussed on "policy-making" including law-making (see vernacular law BY or THROUGH the people.
- Pluralism: The idea of "pluralism" is often taken as unalloyed social virtue. It suggests that the speaker tolerates a diversity of races, ethnicities, gender orientations, religions, etc. This is important so far as it goes, but the idea of "pluralism" generally accepts the market/state polity as now constituted. A more bracing challenge is to embrace the idea of a "pluriverse," which recognizes that there is not a single reality and worldview -- the "One-World World" that anthropologist Arturo Escobar speaks of html -- but rather a "pluriverse" of many experienced "worlds" that people create. (see: pluriversal)
- Policy: The word "policy" implies general principles, laws and rules that are decided by government authorities and imposed from above. The wisdom and legitimacy of "policy" is often justified by citing its democratic and scientific antecedents -- elections, procedural fairness, expert advice, etc. But state power, especially in its alliance with market capitalism, has its own imperatives shaping the creation and implementation of "policy." The counterpoint from the commons is custom, traditional knowledge, and informal systems that have been shaped and refined by widespread social practice over time.
- Principle: Usually, approaches that challenge the dominant ways of organizing society and economy lean on principles. That is: on basic standards, especially of human behavior, which are based on ideologic or moral judgements. Most policies are predetermined by such principles, they get fixed and unflexible. Take the principle of "efficiency" in the dominante market driven economy or the principle (ethic standard) of solidarity in the Solidarity Economy. Principled approaches suggest, that introducing a few (good) principles would change everything. As if it was a matter of embracing the good principles and incorporating them into the old way of doing. It is a valuable idea as far as it goes, but overly general. It doesn't really help to understand what makes these principles really work, what "enacts" them. Therefor, while we won't ban the word "principle" from our vocabulary all together, we rather focus on patterns. Patterns allow us to describe of how to get from here to there. They don't only provide orientation (as principles do), they are also tools to be used.
- Scale (as a verb): "How do we scale this idea?" implies that some sort of centralized, hierarchical system is needed to expand the operationality of a given idea. "Scale" is often another way of saying "significant" or "consequential." But as we explain in our principle of emulate and federate, small-scale, local projects can "scale" through self-selection and self-organization, without centralized systems of control. The wisdom of designer Thomas Lommée is apt: "The next big thing will be a lot of small things."
# See also
- Taxonomy: The word taxonomy finds its roots in the Greek language τάξις (taxis), which means 'order', 'arrangement' and νόμος (nomos), which means 'law' or 'science'. Hence, to set up a taxonomy is ordering, or practicing and studying classification. Such a classification usually translates into distinct categories represented in tree-like-structures. At the end of the day, even if this is not a requirement, many taxonomies look hierarchical, like pyramides.