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Common resistance: Understanding the role of social movements in collaborative governance

Authors: Kristin Dobbin*,
Topics: Natural Resources, Cultural and Political Ecology, Rural Geography
Keywords: commoning, commons, political ecology, rural, California, collaborative governance, water, environmental justice, social movements
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2020
Start / End Time: 3:00 PM / 4:00 PM
Room: Virtual Track 11
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


A growing body of commons literature is turning its attention from “commons” as a noun to “commoning” as a verb, honing in on the social practices and processes necessary for managing shared resources. Such work has opened the door for increased attention to the role of social movements, touching off a debate on the virtuous/wicked cycle between social movements and community-based natural resource management (Villamayor-Tomas & García-López, 2018). Thus far, however, little work has been done to carry these new questions beyond the confines of community management to related/subsequent bodies of literature including collaborative governance. This paper seeks to begin that work by probing the role and impact of social movements in collaborative governance using the case of California groundwater reform. I argue that grassroots organizing by environmental justice stakeholders in rural central California in response to draft management plans can be seen as a commoning strategy, contesting the cooption of shared resources by regional elites and challenging the ongoing exclusion of low-income Spanish-speaking communities from the collaborative process. This reading raises important questions at the nexus of social movements, commons and collaborative governance: In what ways does commoning respond to and change the boundaries of inclusion/exclusion in collaborative governance settings? What are the implications of scale and fragmentation in governance regimes for environmental justice movements? What are the effects of such organizing on both the collaborative process and the social movements they intersect with?

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