Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg

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Manuela Bank-Zillmann
Telefon: +49 345 55-21004

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Professor Insa Theesfeld
Professor of Agricultural, Environmental and Food Policy
Institute for Agricultural and Nutritional Sciences
Telefon: +49 345 55-22510



Manuela Bank-Zillmann

Telefon: +49 345 55-21004
Telefax: +49 345 55-27404

Universitätsplatz 8/9
06108 Halle


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Who owns the world? 50 years of commons research

Nummer 104/2018 vom 21. August 2018
Fifty years ago, US ecologist Garret Hardin launched a global debate. In his essay "The Tragedy of the Commons" he warned of the consequences of a growing world population. The steadily increasing, uncontrolled consumption of resources is leading to a global collapse. Today, "commons" research is established worldwide and provides answers to local and global problems. In light of this, the "World Commons Week" will be held around the world from 4 to 12 October. The European component is being organised by Prof. Insa Theesfeld from Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU).

In his 1968 essay Hardin criticised the belief that all of mankind’s problems could be solved through technical innovation. He regarded the biggest problem as being the consequences of an ever-increasing world population. He wrote at the time in the journal "Science" that this was increasingly consuming freely accessible and limited resources, such as land and water. He predicted a long-term collapse of the entire system at the end of this development. He called for a change in thinking: access to public goods would have to be privatised or controlled by the state.

The biologist, who provided a boost to commons research, was, however, not an ethicist. And: "Hardin makes an error in his essay: he equates common goods with free, unregulated access. He talks about resources for which there are no rules. However, this is not at all the case for common goods," says Dr Insa Theesfeld, Professor of Agricultural, Environmental and Food Policy at MLU. In the case of traditional common goods, like forests and fishing grounds, there is in fact a defined set of rules. These stipulate the rights and obligations of the users and detail who is entitled to use them.

Common goods have a much broader definition today than 50 years ago, says Theesfeld. For example, the global atmosphere or public spaces are regarded as common goods. There are also many considerations with regard to regulating science, software and IT using "commons" principles. "Not every common resource becomes scarcer when it is shared. In fact, the opposite is true for knowledge: it multiplies," said the researcher. Therefore, current research on common goods also examines questions of access and provision. The commons idea is even playing an increasingly important role in municipalities. Many cities offer small areas within the city - so-called urban gardens - that can be planted and cultivated by its citizens.

Half a century of commons research is being marked by "World Commons Week", organised by the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC), whose founding president was Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom. It will take place worldwide from 4 to 12 October 2018 and it also aims to give new impetus to research on commons governance. MLU researcher Insa Theesfeld is the initiator and co-organiser of the global week. As head of the European IASC Group, she is tasked with coordinating the events in Europe, which will take place locally in the form of mini-conferences and workshops. Martin Luther University will participate with a mini-conference on pseudo-commons in post-socialist countries, which Theesfeld is organising together with the Agricultural University Plovdiv in Bulgaria. Theesfeld’s research assistant, Dr Ilkhom Soliev, is organising an excursion to Halle's open-air gallery on the topic of "Revitalising the Common Urban Space".

A 24-hour global webinar will also take place around the globe on October 12, 2018 - for a half an hour at lunchtime in each time zone - with experts and practitioneers from all over the world reporting on new common goods projects.

The decentralised events throughout Europe are open to all interested participants. It is also possible to organise an event on the subject yourself.

Further information can be found at:


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