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Abstract"This article argues that the commons metaphor is an important icon of the 'development world,' with instrument-effects resulting from professionals unreflexively engaged in the real world of Third World commoners and First World structural adjustment loans. At a moment when the commons model is being heralded as an effective and nuanced mechanism to rationalize supranational institutions managing both local resources and global environments, this article hopes to situate these debates in a critical, discursive context. That is: Why intervene on behalf of the commoner's commons? Why development projects? Why the World Bank (IBRD), World Trade Organization (WTO), UN-Environment Programme (UNEP), and World Resources Institute (WRI)? Why should Northern commons experts and developers work so hard to help Southern locals I define their own property relations, and conversely, why should locals follow the prescriptions of Northern developers? In the path created by these experts scurrying to 'clarify' property relations in Third World sites, I would argue that significant artifacts (e.g., institutions of power) are being left behind that undermine commoners' rights to control the knowledge produced, and ultimately 'because this knowledge helps determine the role of capital, the state, and development institutions on that site' the realm of what is defined as the commons. If this is so, then the commons debate is worth mining not for insights into strategies for improving social and ecological conditions (however meaningful these strategies may be to differing interests) but for explanations of new forms of social control that can lead to intensified exploitation of all forms of nature, human and non-human. In other words, this body of literature can best teach us about 'the commons project' as a hidden and not-so-hidden institution of domination and imperialism in North-South relations. If we are to learn anything from the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio 'the Greatest Commons Show on Earth' it is that the objective of the Summit's major power brokers was not to constrain or restructure capitalist economies and practices to help save the rapidly deteriorating ecological commons, but rather to restructure the commons (e.g., privatize, 'develop,' 'make more efficient,' valorize, 'get the price right') to accommodate crisis-ridden capitalisms. The effect has not been to stop destructive practices but to normalize and further institutionalize them, putting commoners throughout the world at even greater risk."
Voices from the Commons, the Sixth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
June 5-8, 1996