Document Type


Publication Date



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences


Social Work


The commons is a theoretical formalism that is useful in understanding many diverse problems of civil society. A common (or commons) is an economic, political, social, and legal institution that enables joint, shared, mutual or collective natural or social action by agents using a “pool” of shared or jointly held or mutually controlled resources. A substantial body of work exists detailing natural common resource pools acted upon by physical or biological agents. Another large body of work on humanly-directed natural resource pools study the human-natural environment interface, interspecies conflict and population density. Studies of social commons have also looked at a broad variety of topics more directly related to the role of commons in civil society. The principal focus of this article addresses a social organizational perspective on commons problems in civil society, with particular attention to those involving associations, foundations, social movements, some nonprofit firms and other forms of collective and voluntary action.

Source Citation

A revised and edited version of this manuscript was published as Commons. International Encyclopedia of Civil Society. Springer Publishers. 2009. 513-520.


Author's preprint.



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