A major new social, economic, political and cultural space (actually, a sector of many spaces) we can call the new commons has gradually emerged outside of markets, governments and households. It currently goes by many names and reaches far beyond the recognized and incorporated nonprofit sector to include many additional forms of voluntary assembly and organized action. This space is legally defined and is the domain of fundraising, volunteering, advocacy, mutual aid, self-help and various forms of collective behavior. It includes associations, groups and clubs but also constitutionally protected assembly - not only public gatherings but also parades, festivals, cosmopolitan canopies like the Reading Market in Philadelphia where a wide variety of people can peacefully gather, and a diverse variety of forms of collective behavior including crowds, street corner societies, jazz and art 'scenes' and, of course, online and digital 'communities' and 'commons' of many types. A common thread characterizing all of these diverse activities is that they are all new commons - legally enabled and protected, (as opposed to the old commons of history that were traditional, customary and largely without legal protection or sanction; a condition that made them highly vulnerable to 'enclosure'. These new commons include not only social but also cultural organizations including social movements, social problems and diverse other 'knowledge commons'. New commons have only recently begun to be recognized as a single class, category or group. In part this is because they have been studied under many different names in many different disciplines and research fields, even though they share certain commonalities. Throughout much of the world today new commons are legally protected and enabled by a penumbra of international, national and state/provincial laws. They function voluntarily on the basis of common resource pools for the achievement of common purposes or missions. Among the intrinsic effects of these new commons are the emergence of social capital, including relations built on trust and arrays of social networks, common identity formation for participants and the formation, defense and projection of norms, values and practices. When a new social movement seeks a major change in society, the rise of new commons will ordinarily follow. If a new social problem is detected, an array of new commons can be expected to emerge to define it, identify its characteristics and work out practices and procedures for dealing with it. Likewise, in the arts, the organizational structure of the institutional complex termed an ‘art world’ has all the characteristics of a new commons. New commons are an important component of civil society, basic to the idea of philanthropy as the love of the human condition, and offer one possible pathway to future development of democratic society and culture.
Digital Commons Citation
Lohmann, Roger A., "Voluntary Action in New Commons" (2015). Faculty & Staff Scholarship. 760.