Urban Commons: new spaces between autonomy and inclusion


Andrea Varriale, Prof. Dr. Max Welch Guerra
3 LP/2 SWS

In the last two decades, “the commons” have become an important concept in social sciences. Phenomena as diverse as guerrilla gardening, squatting, participative budgeting and Wikipedia are routinely analysed as commons. In urban studies, self-managed squares and parks come to mind, from Tempelhof in Berlin, to Campo de Cebada in Madrid, to Syntagma square in Athens. Such alternative spaces, neither state-controlled, nor privately owned, carry the promise of free experimentation and urban democracy. Yet the idea of the commons has penetrated the realm of politics too, and several European cities have incorporated the principle of the commons in their statutes, thus giving substance to the notion of “city as commons”. To make matters more complicated, criticism abound both on the left and on the right of the political spectrum.

What are urban commons, exactly, and how do they impact the way we live, study, and transform cities?

This block seminar offers a critical introduction to the theme of “the commons” and invites the students to an active exploration of the theme. The first part of the seminar provides a basic definition of urban commons, and illustrates the main lines of the relevant scholarship. Students are then encouraged to use this basis to critically address some of the most pressing theoretical and empirical questions about the nature, the relevance, and the political potential of the commons in contemporary cities.