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The Commons in Latin America

The Commons in Latin America

Type of group

Initiative group

Area focus

Latin America


Fabio de Castro


Michiel Baud
Rutgerd Boelens
Fabio de Castro
Barbara Hogenboom
Christien Klaufus
Kees Koonings
Julienne Weegels
Annelou Ypeij

Links within ARTES

Research Group Environmental Governance and Justice in Latin America
Research Group Mediating Memories in Europe, the Middle East and Latin America

Research programme

The commons are broadly defined as material, symbolic or virtual resources co-created and governed by a group through a set of norms of access, use and/or reproduction. In contrast to the institutional definition of the commons based on intrinsic features of natural and human-made resources, this Research Group uses a broader conceptualization of the commons as a social construction shaped by struggles, resistance and everyday life practices. In particular, we explore both theoretically and empirically the commons as an integrative perspective to investigate social and environmental transformation in Latin America by linking geographies (rural and urban), scales (local and global), institutions (formal and informal), and  tangibility (material, symbolic and virtual).

How the Latin American commons are enclosed and shared deserves special attention. In LA we notice in recent years a twofold process in which commons are increasingly threatened and at the same time new processes of communing emerge.  Reshaping narratives, identities and practices as well as re-appropriating territories, material goods and virtual spaces are some of the strategies used to resist processes of commons enclosure processes. At the same time, commoning may not only reflect resistance and empowerment, nor a harmonic collectivity but also mechanisms to increase access by elite groups or generate other forms of inequalities. This Research Group will take a critical perspective to the ‘commons’ and will analyze a range of commoning experiences in different social and environmental context. The main goal of this Research Group is to assess the analytical power of the commons concept to bridge disciplinary and context-related questions, and to understand a wide range of process in different contexts in Latin America. Some of the guiding questions of this Research Group are: How can the commons be articulated in order to take multiple subjectivities into account? How can the struggles around the commons be interpreted in a context of rapid social and environmental changes? What are the elements related to the Latin American commons that are particular to the region and why?

Achievements 2014-2017

Aims 2018-2021

The members of this Research Group meet periodically in seminars to explore opportunities for collaborative work (e.g., grants, field research, academic events, publication, courses) and to discuss the progress of their research and identify common and contrasting elements across research cases. Engagement of young researchers (PhD and Post-docs) will be promoted. In addition, the group is open to develop cross-regional comparative analysis with colleagues from ARTES and other external partners. In the coming years, the group will organize public events where the research from the group and other invited guests will be presented and publication projects will be developed. Finally, the group will develop collective research projects around the commons perspective in order to develop a more reflexive perspective to the commons.

Current projects

Xela Stories of transformation: A commons perspectives on (peri-)urban resource use, territoriality, and cultural representation
New Socioenvironmentalism in Brazil by Fabio de Castro

Recent output

  • July 2018: Xela fieldwork research - 2 week collective field research with the CEDLA staff
  • June 2018: Paper Commoning struggles: New forms of socio-environmentalism bridging classes and spaces in Brazil. Presented by Fabio de Castro in IASC Workshop 'Social Mobilization and the Commons: The Virtual Circle?' in Barcelona
  • October 2018: Seminar: Public presentation of the Xela research by the CEDLA staff and opening of the photo exhibition from the Xela research at CEDLA.

Valorization activities

The commons is a concept that has increasingly been embraced by a range of academic disciplines and stakeholders, including policy makers, practitioners and companies. As a topic that connects academic thinking with policy, practice and activism, this emerging field creates space for co-production of knowledge across disciplines (interdisciplinarity), stakeholders (transdisciplinarity) and geographies (cross-regional comparisons). At the same time, the rapid growth in the use of the commons demands more careful attention. Many collective actions observed in Latin America can be described as commoning initiatives to resist dispossession, displacement, disenfranchisement. On the other hand, commoning may be shaped by technocratic mechanisms or western values that disempower local actors and facilitate the influence of powerful actors to legitimate their actions. A critical view to the commons is needed in order to avoid normative interpretations and simplistic policies and practices that promote commoning that can lead to perverse outcomes. Lessons learned from Latin American cases can be useful to deepening intellectual exchange among ARTES members and bridging Research Groups through cross-regional analysis, including the Global North.