The Politics of the Commons: from Theory to Struggle


Since its first introduction in 1968 by Garret Hardin, the concept of the commons has changed considerably both in terms of its influences and its conceptual content. However, Hardin’s article, The Tragedy of the Commons, gained a wider meaning during the post-1980 neoliberal era. In fact, his approach based on the idea that excluding the commons from property relations would lead to their destruction found its concrete practice in the post-1980’s world. In his 1978 article, Political Requirements for Preserving our Common Heritage, Hardin explicitly writes that there is already a need for ‘a coercive force’ in a crowded world. Thus, as he puts it in the Tragedy of the Commons, he sees the increase in the world’s population to be the main issue and asserts that the only way to preserve the commons is through the forceful limitation of population growth and the inclusion of the commons in private or public ownership. The most prominent objection to Hardin’s interpretation was raised in the work of Elinor Ostrom, who won a Nobel Prize in Economics in 2009. Notwithstanding Ostrom’s critical refutation, the discussion was largely confined to an academic level.

It was in the 1990s, when neoliberal hegemony was established and its negative consequences began to appear on a global scale, that the politics of the commons came onto the agenda of social movements. At a time when market capitalism declared its ultimate victory upon the disintegration of the USSR (the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics), firstly natural resources, such as waters and forests, then services like sanitation, water, education, and health began to be commodified and privatized. Objections at a global level were raised to neoliberal policies that were implemented on the assertion of ‘There is no alternative’. In particular, the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, which was blockaded by unions and activists, marked the dawn of a new era of an emergent global anti-capitalist movement. It was during this period that the concept of the commons began to appear. The movements that primarily opposed the commodification of ecological resources, arguing that these resources were commons, proposed that they should be considered external to market relations. And what’s more, these movements gradually went beyond fighting in defence of the commons and began to advocate that those who use the commons and are affected by them should participate in their governance through commoning practices. Opposing the wave of privatization, the politics of the commons later expanded its political sphere by arguing that services such as education and health are the very commons of society. Following the massive, global occupation of the squares, particularly in 2011, the politics of the commons extended its demands concerning the defence of the urban commons and argued that the city itself is a common and thus should be managed by its citizens through commoning practices.

In this collected work, you will find articles that seek to analyze the politics of the commons within this framework. The unifying element of the articles is that they address the potentials of the commons not only as an academic field of study, but also by their inherent potentials and prevailing limitations as regards the anti-capitalist struggle. In addition, these articles chiefly seek to follow the traces of the politics of the commons throughout the social movements in Turkey. This book aims to fill a gap for activists, who not only want to understand the world but also to change it, by providing experiences of social movements and conceptual debates.

The first article is written by Bülent Duru with the title “What are the Commons? On Natural, Urban, Social Commons and their Effects on Urban Social Movements”, in which he discusses the potentials of the politics of the commons. He divides commons into three main categories: natural commons such as air, water, and soil; urban commons such as streets, parks, squares; and social and cultural commons that comprise social facilities such as social security, the internet, and traditions, as well as cultural values such as science, art, and music. Notwithstanding the increasing hegemony of cities, he states that it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish urban commons from rural commons. Duru examines the transformation of these three domains of the commons during the AKP’s rule. He conducts a debate on the possible reasons why movements fighting to defend the social and cultural commons tend to be much weaker than other social movements that have emerged in the field of natural and urban commons. He points to the relationship between the politics of the commons and the working class. He explores the constraints of these movements together with their inherent potentials for an anti-capitalist alternative.

The Politics of the Commons: from Theory to Struggle

Assoc. Prof. Bülent Duru
Prof. Aykut Çoban
Assoc. Prof. Ümit Akçay
Assoc. Prof. Begüm Özden Fırat
Dr. Fırat Genç
Can Irmak Özinanır
Dr. Lülüfer Körükmez
Umut Kocagöz
Dr. Özdeş Özbay
Luke Stobart

Sivil ve Ekolojik Haklar Derneği (Civil and Ecological Rights Association)

December 2018, İstanbul
Kocatepe Mah, Receppaşa Cad. No: 9 D: 10
İmren Apt. Beyoğlu/ İstanbul,
Email address:

Academic Editor: Özdeş Özbay
Editors: Erkin Erdoğan, Nuran Yüce, Özdeş Özbay
Design: Emin Şakir
Translations and preparation arranged by Carol Williams
Print: Netcopy Center
Cover Photo: Indignats / Indignados / Indignés by Julien Lagarde
ISBN: 978-605-67704-2-5

Aykut Çoban begins his article, “Ecological Commons and Enclosure Polices in Turkey”, with a discussion on the concept of the commons. He prefers to use the term ‘ortaklaşımlar’, which focuses on the commonalities of the commons, rather than the more widely used ‘müşterekler’. With a focus on the ecological commons, Çoban expounds the historical role of primitive accumulation in the enclosures of the commons, and moves on to the specific types of policies implemented as regards the enclosures of the ecological resources in Turkey.

In “The Crisis of Capitalism and the Commons”, Ümit Akçay lays much emphasis on the potentials inherent in the politics of the commons for an anti-capitalist movement during financial crises. Akçay begins his article by touching upon the causes of the global financial crisis of capitalism in 2007-8, the mainstream economic policies implemented so as to exit the crisis, and its short-term consequences. Scrutinizing the alternative policies devised to curb the crisis, he focuses on the contributions that the politics of the commons have to offer.

Begüm Özden Fırat reads the concept of the commons through social movements in her article entitled “Global Movement Cycles and Commoning Movements”. Although it is quite possible to find previous movements on commons, she explains in this article that there are mainly two global movement cycles that have certain effects on the present. The first of these is the anti-globalization movement, which began with the blocking of the WTO (World Trade Organization) meeting in Seattle in 1999 by protesters. The second is the squares and occupation movements that started in 2011. Fırat indicates that the experiences of commoning practices within these two cycles play a crucial role in organizing anti-system alternatives; nevertheless, she further explains that such movements begin to lose their global networks and interactions as they experience difficulty in gaining continuity, which leaves them in isolation from movements.

Fırat Genç, in his article “Urban Opposition and the Politics of the Commons in Istanbul”, addresses the urban commons in the context of the gentrification that Istanbul has endured in the 2000s and the emergent urban resistance movements specific to this period. Genç explains three urban movements within this framework: neighborhood solidarities that emerged against urban transformation projects, mobilizations that have arisen so as to defend public spaces, and the Gezi Resistance.

Can Irmak Özinanır, in “Where do the Solidarity Academies Stand in Relation to the Commons?”, provides a discussion on whether or not the organizations such as solidarity academies and the Street Academy, which emerged out of the campaign “We will not be a party to this crime” by Academics for Peace, are expected to generate a new form in terms of the politics of the commons, as well as the potentials and limitations that it presents.

Lülüfer Körükmez, in her article entitled “Thinking Migrant Solidarity Movements within the Commons”, poses the question of how approximately four million refugees, who remain excluded from the social movements in Turkey, could actually be included in the politics of the commons. She highlights the experiences of a limited number of migrant solidarity movements that are trying to include migrants in their struggles and a number of networks in that area.

In his article entitled “The Commons Politics of Food”, Umut Kocagöz discusses the possibilities of describing food as a common through the critique of the industrial food system. After presenting a discussion on why and how food should be defined as a commons, Kocagöz offers an insight into the origins of the food issue in Turkey together with the commons politics of food. Finally, he expands on the commonization of food and the strategy of creating commons politics of food through four key tactics.

In his article entitled “The Politics of the Water Commons”, Özdeş Özbay outlines two landmark struggles, namely the Italian Forum of Water Movements and the Cochabamba Water Wars, which recognize water as a common and bring the issue of the water commons onto the agenda of social movements. He then introduces the Blue Communities Project and the Barcelona in Common movement, which are municipal experiences that recognize water as a common by dint of the struggles of social movements from below.

Luke Stobart, in the book’s final article, “The Commons Experiment in Barcelona”, points out the experiences of the Barcelona in Common movement, which won the local elections in Barcelona in 2015. Stobart discusses the origins of the movement, the theories that influenced it, its ensuing practices after winning the elections, and the problems it had to deal with. Finally, he poses the question whether the movement is in need of different political strategies.

What are the Commons?
On Natural, Urban, Social Commons
and Their Effects on Urban Social Movements

Bülent Duru

Ecological Commons and Enclosure Polices in Turkey

Aykut Çoban

The Crisis of Capitalism and
the Commons

Ümit Akçay

Global Movement Cycles and Commoning Movements

Begüm Özden Fırat

Urban Social Movements and the Politics of the Commons in Istanbul

Fırat Genç

Where do the Solidarity Academies Stand in Relation to the Commons?

Can Irmak Özinanır

Thinking Migrant Solidarity Movements within the Commons

Lülüfer Körükmez

The Commons Politics Of Food

Umut Kocagöz

The Politics of the Water Commons

Özdeş Özbay

The Commons Experiment in Barcelona

Luke Stobart

Sponsored by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung with funds of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development of the Federal Republic of Germany. This publication is under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) license. Whole content or parts of it can be used by others for free as long as they provide a proper reference to the original publication. The content of the publication is the sole responsibility of authors and does not necessarily reflect a position of the Civil and Ecological Rights Association or the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung.