Research Sharing at ITU

On the 23rd May, our Interest Group on Commons and Commoning held two round table sessions at the biennial Research Sharing Day event organized by ITU.

In the two sessions, we had guests primarily from the Design and Business IT Departments, but also some curious bystanders passing by from Computer Science. Here, we tried explain and summarize what our approach to design and commons involve and what we have been doing over the past few years – from workshops work (e.g. PDC2020, PDC2022), reading group, and the podcast.

However, the most fun and interesting parts were certainly those were we engaged in discussions with our guests about: what they understand as commons, how they try to work with or incorporate commons in their research or teaching work, and what kind of research and societal value they see in such an approach.


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Relationality, commoning, and designing

…a PDC2022 online workshop

We are really excited to be back soon at the biennial Participatory Design Conference (PDC2022 – online and in Newcastle, UK) with a new installation of a commoning and designing workshops, which we co-organize and host with a bunch of very interesting colleagues!

Click and visit here for all the info about Relationality, Commoning, and Designing, and consider joining us!

Silke Helfrich

It is with saddened hearths that we heard about Silke Helfrich‘s passing.

Over the past, we got to know Silke through her inspiring and vibrant writing and activism on commons. Recently, we also had the privilege to get to know her in person, when she came to the IT University of Copenhagen to deliver an opening keynote for the Long now of the commons event. We appreciated and enjoyed her energy, friendliness and, at the same time, her passion, commitment and dedication towards commoning every aspect of life and human doings.

Together with many, countless others, we mourn Silke’s loss.

Farewell posts from the  Commons-Institute and from David Bollier.

A pluriversal card-deck on commoning and design

On the 16th June we held the main and closing session of the Commoning Design and Designing Commons workshop for the Participatory Design Conference 2020.

PDC Workshop

Ahead of the session, we split into four groups of four people and, through some asynchronous collaboration, we started bringing up keywords inspired by each others’ position statements. On the 16th, a half day of collaborative brainstorming and writing took place supported by etherpad, onlyoffice, and our adaptation of Zoom’s “Breakout rooms” to allow virtual room hopping in a manner loosely inspired by the Open Space Technology method. We enriched and better delineated the content of what we called a pluriversal card deck on the topic of commoning and design, by building on those initial keywords.

Workshop artifactThe card deck includes definitions of terms and practices that populate commons discourse, as well as few concrete examples of commoning and PD initiatives in this area. We consider this card deck to be open and pluriversal because:

  • we will release it under permissive commons-oriented licenses, and we both aim and hope for a community of scholars, practitioners, commoners to use and continue contributing to such card deck even after the release of v1.0 🙂
  • it tries to represent the plurality of experiences, interpretations, definitions, and meanings that characterize commons and designing for the diverse group of workshop participants.

8.12.2020 UDATE: After some post-production work by the workshop organisers in order to polish the content and layout of the card-deck, as well as to decide the last practicalities with the workshop participants, we are happy to say that v2 of the Commoning Design Pluriversal card deck is out! More information here 🙂


Themes and participants – Commoning Design and Designing Commons workshop at PDC 2020

During the past weeks we have been busy advertising the workshop, reviewing the papers received, and finalizing the details of the remote/online workshop on Commoning Design and Designing Commons which will take place at the Participatory Design Conference 2020.

Now, we really look forward to engage in the discourse around commoning and participatory design with the scholars and practitioners who wrote us to be part of the workshop.

Check the following page, if you want to peek at the list of topics that will be the basis for our reflections and work: themes and participants!

Talk Abstracts – The Long now of the Commons – 17/10/2019, ITU

Here you can find the abstracts for the talks @ The Long Now of the Commons

Silke HelfrichFree, Fair and Alive: The Power of the Commons

The commons can be seen as an attitude, as a practice or as a worldview. Whatever understanding you prefer – it will open up new possibilities for change; reorient our language, our perceptions and our political strategies. It is widely accepted that the power of the commons can only be properly understood through the analysis of commoning, including its internal, interpersonal dynamics. Because the commons is not a certain type of resource, in the style of standard economics or a certain type of institution as the Ostrom framework suggests. Commons are living social processes. They rely on a whole set of human values and behaviors that the standard economic narrative regards as marginal. Silke Helfrich will introduce the Triad of Commoning with its three dimensions: social life, Provisioning through Commons and Peer Governance, challenging prevailing categories of thought and terms that belong “to a fading era”.


Alex Pazaitis  – Peer Production and State Theory: Envisioning a Cooperative Partner State

This essay examines the concept of the Partner State, as a new form of symbiosis between state and civil society, based on the principles and practices of Peer Production. The general stance of Peer Production advocates is almost intrinsically anti-state. However, state theory arguably reveals that the examination of the state and its institutions actually helps us understand the position and potentials of Peer Production. A tentative union between Hegelian and Gramscian thought delineates why and how the State can, and arguably should, embrace and support Peer Production. Finally, a tentative framework for these prefigurative institutions is offered by Open Cooperativism.


Mathieu O’NeilMapping the firm-project network

IT firms have embraced open source licenses and the ‘hacker ethic’ of self-fulfillment. In 2018, Google moved from Ubuntu to Debian; Microsoft bought GitHub, and IBM Red Hat; 85% of Linux code was produced by firm employees. Firms are paying the salaries of some developers but are also ‘free riding’ on the unpaid labour of others. Should benefits be shared, and what is the impact on projects? How can an invisible phenomenon be mapped? To answer, we track the commits made by firm employees to GitHub repositories and collect text featuring F/OSS project-firm co-locations in three IT news media. We then compare the two firm-project networks: financial connections and media representations.


Giacomo PoderiCaring about the commoners – Affect and long-term commitments to commoning

Nowadays, it is generally acknowledged that “there is no commons without commoning” and that commons portray ways of being in the world that are fairer, more sustainable and democratic than those provided by capitalist and neo-liberal ones. However, the practical challenges, the implications, and the meaning that ‘to keep commoning’ has for the commoners is largely neglected. This talk will focus on commoners’ long-term commitment to commoning practices and will address the affective and practical dimensions of maintaining such commitment over time. The talk is grounded on the empirical work conducted for an ongoing research project on the long-term sustainability of commoning practices.


Maurizio TeliCommoning and Participatory Design – a Love Story?

Commoning practices, intended as practices that nurture the entanglement of symbolic and material elements life on Earth relies upon and reproduces are becoming more and more widespread. In contemporary commoning practices, the assumption that humankind should democratically access what human beings share goes together with experimentation in new institutional forms. With these premises, the talk will discuss how participatory design, originated in the democratization of the workplace aside the introduction of new technologies, can provide commoners, the ones engaging with commoning practices, with approaches, concepts, and methods, capable of supporting commoning of technologies and through technologies. In conclusion, the talk will explore how a commoning-oriented conceptualization of love can strengthen the convergence of commoning and participatory design.


Mara FerreriCommoning for housing justice

Dwelling and home-making are core to individual and collective practices of social reproduction and belonging; yet, housing is increasingly experienced by many as a place of precarity and dispossession. Can commons theory help to imagine and initiate transformative practices for housing justice? In this contribution I will introduce key issues for thinking critically about housing as a commons, looking at material conditions, infrastructures, self-organisation, openness and long-term maintenance. To ground the discussion, I will draw upon my recent research into historical and contemporary examples of housing commoning and their material and symbolic legacy.


Anna SeravalliUrban commons: towards more democratic cities?

Urban commons are collaborative arrangements that can engage citizens, entrepreneurs, property owners, NGOs as well as city administrations, who get together to create, use and manage resources in cities. Urban commons entail new ways of caring for cities and citizens’ needs that enhance social relationships and can foster participatory forms of urban governance. Many cities around Europe are promoting urban commons as means for collaboratively managing the public good and for creating more inclusive and democratic cities. The talk discusses some of the challenges and opportunities of urban commons, focusing on both practical aspects of collaboration as well as broader governance questions.


Marcos GarciaCitizen labs as commons laboratories. Local and international approaches

Citizen laboratories are infrastructures that help to grow local commons and scale them up. Public institutions like libraries, schools, universities, museums, hospitals, parlaments, and research centers could also offer space for open experimentation and collaboration for the building of new commons. These commons laboratories can be connected internationally and build a network that becomes a counterweight to the global forces that destroy local life. In my presentation I would like to explore this proposal from the experience at Medialab Prado and the model of the citizen laboratory that we have experimented the last twelve years.

Program – The Long Now of the Commons – 17/10/2019, ITU

This is the event program for The Long Now of the Commons event!

You can find the abstracts of the talks on this page.


9.00    Opening & Welcome, by Lone Malmborg, Head of Digital Design Department

9.15-12.40 Morning session

9.15    Silke Helfrich – Founding member of Commons Strategies Group – Free, Fair and Alive: The Power of the Commons

10.00    Alex Pazaitis  – Tallinn University of Technology – Peer Production and State Theory: Envisioning a Cooperative Partner State

10.35    Coffee break

10.50    Mathieu O’Neil – University of Canberra – Mapping the firm-project network

11.25    Giacomo Poderi – IT University of Copenhagen – Caring about the commoners – Affect and long-term commitments to commoning

12.10    Discussion Panel

12.40    Lunch break

13.30-16.30 Afternoon session

13.30    Maurizio Teli – Aalborg University – Commoning and Participatory Design – a Love Story?

14.05    Mara Ferreri – University of Northumbria – Commoning for housing justice

14.40    Anna Seravalli – Malmö University – Urban commons: towards more democratic cities?

15.15    Break

15.30    Marcos Garcia – Medialab Prado, Madrid – Citizen labs as commons laboratories. Local and international approaches

16.05    Discussion Panel

16.30    Greetings & Closing


Attendance is free and open to everyone. To help with the logistic, please sign up here.

The event is organized by Giacomo Poderi (Department of Computer Science, IT University of Copenhagen) and Joanna Saad-Sulonen (Department of Digital Design, IT University of Copenhagen), and it is funded through the project grant 749353, of the H2020/MSCA-IF-2016 call. The event is hosted by the IT University of Copenhagen.


ALEX PAZAITIS is a core member of the interdisciplinary research collective P2P Lab, spin-off of the Ragnar Nurkse Department of Innovation and Governance, Tallinn University of Technology and of the P2P Foundation. He holds an MA in Technology Governance and is Junior Research Fellow and PhD candidate at the Ragnar Nurkse Department. Alex is a core team member of the COSMOLOCALISM project and has been involved in numerous research activities, including scholarly papers and research and innovation projects. He has professional experience in project management and has worked as a consultant for private and public organizations. His research interests include technology governance; innovation policy; digital commons; open cooperativism and distributed ledger technologies.

ANNA SERAVALLI is a senior lecturer and design researcher at The School of Arts and Communication Malmö University. She has a background as product and service designer and holds a PhD in Design and Social Innovation. Her research explores questions around alternative economics, participation and democracy in the urban context. She closely collaborates with citizens, NGOs, civil servants and small entrepreneurs in exploring new modes of production, participation and decision making in urban production and city making. She is the coordinator of Malmö University DESIS Lab.

GIACOMO PODERI is a Marie Curie postdoctoral researcher at the IT University of Copenhagen. His current project focuses on the sustainability of different commoning practices (e.g. urban, digital, knowledge commons) and takes particular interest at commoners’ long-term commitment. His research interests concern the interplay between society and Information and Communication Technology through the lenses of co-construction and participatory processes. More concretely, he is interested in the role that participation plays in mediating use, design, and development aspects of ICT. His latest publication is “Sustaining platforms as commons” in CoDesign 15(3).

MARA FERRERI is research fellow in Human Geography at the University of Northumbria. Until recently she held a Marie Curie postdoctoral fellowship at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain (see: Her work on urban precarity, commons, housing and temporariness has been published in international journals such as Transactions of the IBG, cultural geographies and Geoforum. She is a founding editor of the open-access international Radical Housing Journal.

MARCOS GARCÍA is the artistic director of Medialab-Prado since 2014, an initiative of the Madrid City Hall, devised as a citizen laboratory for the production, research and dissemination of cultural projects that explores forms of experimentation and collaborative learning that have emerged with digital networks.From 2006 to 2013, he was in charge of coordination and programming at Medialab-Prado, alongside Laura Fernández. Previously, from 2004 to 2006, they set up the education programme of MediaLabMadrid, developing the cultural mediation programme and the Interactivos? project, a platform for production and research into the creative and educational applications of technology. Marcos has taken part in numerous international events about digital culture and the commons.

MATHIEU O’NEIL is Associate Professor in Communication at the University of Canberra and Adjunct Research Fellow in the School of Sociology at the ANU. His interests are the sociology of fields and controversies, social network analysis, and labour and organization studies. He is currently investigating waged and volunteer labour in F/OSS projects thanks to a grant from the Sloan Foundation. Mathieu’s research has been published in Social Networks, Information, Communication and Society, Réseaux, and Organization Studies, amongst others. In 2006 he contributed to the founding of the Virtual Observatory for the Study of Online Networks, a world leader in e-social science, and in 2010 he founded the Journal of Peer Production.

MAURIZIO TELI is Associate Professor at the Department of Planning, Aalborg University, Denmark. His research focuses on participatory design and commoning in relation to digital platforms. He has more than fifty publications, including the book “Beyond Capital: Values, Commons, Computing and the Search for a Viable Future” (co-authored with David Hakken and Barbara Andrews, Routledge, 2016) and the co-edited special issue of CoDesign – International Journal of CoCreation in Design and the Arts “Repositioning CoDesign in the age of platform capitalism: from sharing to caring” (with Gabriela Avram, Jaz Hee-jeong Choi, Stefano De Paoli, Ann Light, and Peter Lyle, 2019).

SILKE HELFRICH is an independent activist, author, scholar, and speaker. She cofounded the Commons Strategies Group and Commons-Institute, was former head of the regional office of Heinrich Böll Foundation for Central America, Cuba, and Mexico, and holds degrees in Romance languages/pedagogy and in social sciences. Helfrich is the editor and co-author of several books on the Commons, and she blogs at She lives in Neudenau, Germany

Event – The Long Now of the Commons – 17th October 2019

In connection to the activities of the Interest Group on Commons and Commoning and to the coming to an end of the ISSP project, during the last few weeks, we have been busy organizing an outreach event centred on commons/-ing:

The Long Now of the Commons – People, Infrastructures and Dilemmas

17th October 2019, 9.00-16.30, IT University of Copenhagen

Only small details remain to be sorted out now. The large bulk of work has been done, and we are fairly sure that with all the diverse contributions that will be hosted by the event, we will have a very interesting day. You can find more information about the event, here.

The Long Now of the Commons will gather contributions by internationally renowned researchers and practitioners experts in the topic. Attendance is free and open to anyone interested.

If you plan to attend, please remember to register on eventbrite.

Digital commons and ‘false consciousness’ – 27/03/2019

During the session of the 27th march, 2019, we focused on Digital Commons and a conversation which took place on Organization journal:

  1. Ossewaarde, M., & Reijers, W. (2017). The illusion of the digital commons: ‘False consciousness’ in online alternative economies. Organization, 24(5), 609–628. (Available  here)
  2. Kostakis, V. (2018). In defense of digital commoning. Organization, 25(6), 812–818. (Available here)
  3. Reijers, W., & Ossewaarde, M. (2018). Digital commoning and its challenges. Organization, 25(6), 819–824. (Available here)

The main article (paper 1) built on the concept of false consciousness and its connection to digital commons by analyzing three different ‘platforms for hospitality’: AirBnB, Couchsurfing, and BeWelcome. By comparing the trajectories of these platforms and their relation (or lack of) to the digital commons the authors argue that the very idea of digital commons might be misleading if it is expected to create subjectivities that are able to resist neoliberal capitalism and to create alternatives. Paper 2, by Kostakis, criticizes the main assumption that pools together platforms for short-term rentals under the label of platforms for hospitality and digital commons. In fact, he argues that the very choice of diverse platforms, which re-distribute the availability of physical spaces under conditions that are more similar to short-term rental markets rather than the one of real gift economy, cannot be equated with digital commons. In their final response (paper 3), the first authors respond by defending the choice of platforms and their association with digital commons (by way of example, even Wikipedia rests on the materiality of a series of physical infrastructures whose political economy with regards to the commons differ from the perceived one of Wikipedia as ‘pure’ digital commons).

During the meeting we discussed at length on how the first authors used the concept of false consciousness and their provocative use of three very different platforms under the label of digital commons. In particular, the way in which the authors applied false consciousness appeared opaque to us. Was it the same kind of false consciousness linked to Marx’s concept of alienation?  What exactly did trigger and sustain false consciousness (e.g. the platform design, the marketing strategy and narrative promoted by platform owners, the ‘naivety’ of commoners…)?

Furthermore, at times their use of the three examples seemed a bit instrumental in supporting their main argument. While they did acknowledge in the end that AirBnB is not a digital commons (nor a commons), they do not focus their analysis much on BeWelcome, which is the platform resembling the most a commons; and as Kostakis also criticizes, they fail to acknowledge that in contrast to the negative implications which AirBnB brought upon several major cities, several concrete actions at institutional and platform levels really took place which can hardly be pooled under the idea of false consciousness.

Finally, we discussed at length the definition of digital commons and what it means to be one. By bringing up examples from our own countries, we confronted different experiences (e.g. Mitwohnzentralen) and how they evolved from being non-digitally mediated to being supported by digital media, and whether or not a real boundary between digital/non-digital really exists.

We agreed that it would be useful for us to go through the exercise of collecting and mapping out definitions of digital commons. This will be the topic of one of our future meetings, where we will start co-creating such a mapping.

Let us know if you would be interested to join, even remotely!

Urban commons and commoning – 27/02/2019

We had the pleasure to co-host, together with Dr Peter Parker and other colleagues from the Department of Urban Studies at Malmö University, Dr Mara Ferreri from the Institute of Government and Public Policy (IGOP) at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. The session successfully took place online, bringing together participants in three different locations.

The readings chosen for the session were two texts by Mara, which we discussed in the following order:

  1. Ferreri, M. 2016. ‘Where’s the trick?’: Practices of commoning across a reclaimed shop front. In: Kirwan, S., Dawney, L. & Brigstocke, J. Space, Power and the Commons. The struggle for alternative futures. Routledge. (available here)
  2. Ferreri, M. 2017. Els comuns com un verb, Nous Horitzons, 215, pp. 40 – 46. (Commons as a verb – English translation from Catalan) (available here

In Ferreri (2016), Mara describes practices of commoning encountered in an ‘freeshop’ / open meeting and exchange space set up by the Off Market Collective in a squatted retail space in North London. Through this example, she highlights the possibility for “commoning a squatted space beyond the boundaries of intentional squatting and activist communities”. The Off Market Collective is seen as an urban commons, with both potential and limitations. The open ‘shop’  allowed for experimentation around the sharing of resources, time and space inside a surrounding landscape of commodified consumption. The existence of different groups at stake, such as the core initiators, the volunteers who later joined, and the visitors who were often coming from a vulnerable social position, challenged the radical openness of the space and brought forward tensions between the more radical initial drive for the space and the need to acknowledge and make space for those less engaged, and how to sustain relationship between these actors.

In Ferreri (2017), the commons are explored not as things (resources), but as a verb: commoning (see also Linebaugh, 2008). Based on the reading, we discussed the aspect of language as related to the commons was discussed (common goods) as well as the notion of commons versus that of public. Activities of commoning can be performed on private land, creating a layer (or more) of use by the commons, where as other layers might remain in use by the private owner. However, we should also be cautious in our terminology: maybe personal rather than private? Personal space still implies individuality but allows for other types of configurations. Can we think about rights of use through different configurations of collectivity? Indeed, one of the core argument that emerged from this part of the discussion is that we (scholars and practitioners alike) might be in need of a commoning of language – to talk about the commons – much more than we realize. This became particularly evident when we raised some comparisons among the different ways of institutioning land property and land use rights in some European countries on one hand, and to conceive and talk about them in different European languages (e.g. English, Swedish, German terminologies for shared land).

When it comes to the relationship to the public sector, the commons in the Off Market case was stemming from a more adversarial stance towards the state, whereas there are other examples (e.g. Cleaning day in Finland), where collaboration with the state is sought, even in the reclaim of public space for the commons. In connection to this part of the discussion we also raised the challenging point of mediating between the collective dimension of commons and the individual ones. On the one hand, looking at the collective subjectivities acting as political actors in the struggle to reclaim spaces, rights, sustainable ways of living, is a crucial aspect, particularly when the need to mediate and interact at institutional levels emerge. On the other hand, we shall not lose sight of the diversity of individual subjects who engage with commoning coming from different backgrounds, with different needs and expectations with regards to the commons  themselves.

To this regard a relevant remark was made to highlight the fact that while in the area of urban commons studies the focus on collective subjectivities and their relationships with institutions is particularly marked, the broader discourse on the commons also includes specific perspectives that privilege issues such as the relational dimension of commoning, their physical realm of possibilities, the mental dispositions of actors involved, as well as their social contexts.

A few useful references were mentioned during the discussion about the diversity of commoning practices in the urban context:

Huron, A. (2018). Carving Out the Commons: Tenant Organizing and Housing Cooperatives in Washington. University of Minnesota Press.

Starecheski, A. (2016). Ours to Lose: When Squatters Became Homeowners in New York City. University of Chicago Press.


Cited references

Linebaugh, P. (2008) The Magna Carta Manifesto: liberties and commons for all. Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California Press.