CFP: The Commons Conference (3/10/06; 4/28/06-4/30/06)

full name / name of organization: 
Lesley Trites
contact email: 

Please Circulate

The Commons Conference

An Academic-Community Event
Privatization and the Public Domain

April 28­-30, 2006
University of Victoria, BC

A committee of students, researchers, and community members are organizing
an interdisciplinary conference on contemporary definitions of "the commons"
to be held at UVic the weekend of April 28-30th, 2006.

The concept of the commons derives from the system of collective ownership
of pastureland in England, which thrived until a series of enclosure acts
divided them in the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries. Enclosure acts
transformed society ­displacing labourers, forcing peasants into the market
society, providing a new economic base for trade, and ecologically
disrupting a diverse arrangement of cultivation, grazing, and wild lands.

The idea of the commons was revived in the 1960s and 70s by the burgeoning
environmental movement. It usefully provided a way to express awareness
that nature does not respect property lines. New forms of political and
economic organization were needed to address the perils of environmental
destruction and social alienation. In recent years, advocates of a digital
or electronic commons have taken up the term "commons," as well. For
example, databases offering open access to medical or scholarly research at
public institutions belong "in common" ownership to citizens. However,
intellectual property erects new fences around these collective agreements.

In the paths and circuits between these commons ­ in physical and digital
space ­ lie important, under-theorized ideas about the meaning of the
public, collectivity, and communal life that could provide powerful
antidotes to the steady encroachments of the private sector into the public
domain. This conference seeks to explore these spaces.

Our keynote speaker will be Dr. George Caffentzis, Chair of Philosophy at
the University of Southern Maine and outspoken activist on issues of
imperialism and war. Caffentzis' critical work exposes the co-optation of
"commons" language and activism by those angling to replace neo-liberalism
with yet another hegemonic ideology. Caffentzis submits that the critical
position to taking up the commons would be that which calls into question
the global circulations of capital and power. Caffentzis will be speaking on
the evening of Friday, April 28th in an open event that is free to the

Saturday will feature presentations by people from across the country:
university faculty, graduate students, and community activists. Speakers
will present imaginative and practical talks on issues around water
privatization, cities, indigenous nationalism, the pharmaceutical industry,
open-source software, libraries, immigration, material and immaterial
property, seed saving, the role of the public intellectual, governance, art
as engagement, the privatization of democratic values and social movements,
and other relevant topics. On Sunday the 30th there will be a day of
facilitated workshops meant to serve as a space for deeper discussion and
strategy. These discussions will focus on conference-participant reflections
and will raise questions about how to build and sustain interdisciplinary

The focus of the papers should be on Canadian issues and the role of Canada
abroad. Some questions people are invited to address are: Who does/does not
occupy a place in the physical and digital commons? What is the role of the
state in the renewed commons? How can media become a two-way flow through a
commons? Can there be such a thing as quotation marks in art? What other
models of ownership are available to oppose commodification? What are the
politics of the commons?

We are looking for papers that theorize ideas of "the commons" that respond
to, resist or subvert forms of privatizations. Papers should bring to light
aspects of social and political control exercised through these
privatizations. Panels will be organized to reflect overlap between issues
identified in respective proposals. Each presentation should be 15 - 20
minutes long.

The deadline for submissions is March 10th, 2006. Please email 250 - 300
word abstracts to

This conference is also an event. Please feel welcome to attend. A website
is currently being designed for the conference and will be on-line soon.
Links will be posted from the VIPIRG and Forum websites
( or Watch for registration

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Received on Tue Jan 24 2006 - 17:17:50 EST