Unpicking the urban commons: what food and foraging might tell us about the politics of land

Authors: Marcus Nyman*, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge
Topics: Urban Geography, Cultural and Political Ecology, Landscape
Keywords: commons, urban, food, nature
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 5:00 PM
Room: Napoleon, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 41st Floor

'Commons' have again resurfaced as a key mode and reference point for radical (and not quite so radical) strands of academic thought, and particularly as a response to the various crises associated with late capitalism. Invoked in diffuse and varied contexts, 'the commons' is troublingly ill-defined and increasingly modified to cover another category or subset of such things: 'urban' commons. This paper will firstly retrace some of the historical and intellectual steps in commons-based thinking, establishing the ways in which the core concepts have been interpreted and modified through time: ultimately to cover geographies, resources and arrangements that bear little resemblance to each other or the circumstances in which they first generated meaning. Taking London (UK) as an example, precisely because of its variously perceived status ('historic', 'post-industrial', 'green', 'neoliberal', 'creative'), the paper will lay out the varying manifestations of 'urban commons' found there.This ranges from vestiges of commons-in-name, to still functioning historic commons, from radical spaces of occupation, to forms of gentrification and exclusion. Finally, it will explore how urban food and foraging reveal some of the paradoxes and ambiguities of commons-focused work and help to reemphasise the importance of placing land and space at the centre of the commons.

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