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    Escape into the city: Everyday practices of commoning and the production of urban space in Dublin

    Bresnihan, Patrick and Byrne, Michael (2015) Escape into the city: Everyday practices of commoning and the production of urban space in Dublin. Antipode, 47 (1). pp. 36-54. ISSN 0066-4812

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    In Dublin there are many needs and desires which are not met, or excluded, by the pattern of high rent, the commodification of social/cultural life, and the regulation of public space. Against this dynamic, Dublin has seen a number of experiments in urban commoning: people collectively finding ways of opening up space in order to do what they want. This might be as simple as wanting a space to work, to make food or to show films. Rather than trying to change this situation by appealing to existing institutions, these new urban commons are characterized by particular groups of people devising practical ways of escaping the forms of “enclosure” which limit what can happen in the city. This article takes a “militant research” approach to explore the potentials and limitations of these experiments in urban production and organization. This article sets out to contribute in two ways to the growing literature on the commons, specifically the urban commons. First, it responds to the relative absence of research on contemporary practices of urban commoning, including the forms of “ownership”, production and “governance” which materialize in everyday spaces of urban commoning. Second, it seeks to identify and conceptualize the challenges and limitations at stake in the practices and politics of urban commoning from the perspective of the commons. That is to say, the politics and potentiality of the commons are not interpreted solely with regard to their relationship with capitalism nor are they set out in theoretical or abstract terms. Instead, we explore the obstacles which “commoners” are identifying and responding to themselves. Those who piece together collective forms of creating and exchanging do so in order to meet concrete needs, and in doing so they confront concrete dynamics of power as they encounter both private (market) and public forces. The tensions thus generated, and the way in which the urban commons does or does not deal with them, can help us understand the pitfalls and possibilities of “commoning” as a material practice. In order to explore these issues, the paper focuses specifically on a set of projects in central Dublin, all of which involve facilitating access to urban space within which to work, play and share in a manner which is not commodified, based on private property or hierarchically organized. These projects, usually referred to in Dublin as “independent spaces”, emerged primarily during a period in which Dublin saw both an intense property boom as well as a dramatic commercialization of the city. Indeed, participants cite high rents and the impossibility of accessing space for any form of activity which does not generate profit as their chief motivation. Unsatisfied by this situation, people, mostly young and precarious, have devised ways of opening up and producing urban spaces in order to meet their needs and desires. This is what we mean when we say that these spaces signify an escape from the enclosure of the city. For the purposes of this research we use the term independent spaces to refer to projects, located in buildings, which have a public dimension, operate beyond the auspices of public and private management and which have a grassroots, DIY ethos.1 All the spaces involve a group of people coming together to find ways of collectively paying rent—thus overcoming the principle challenge with regard to accessing urban space. Rent is paid, for example, through donations, membership, fundraising, providing food, or renting out studio space. In turn, they open up the space to participation and use. This participation might be to attend the events which take place (eg film screenings, exhibitions, gigs, parties) or to avail of resources provided (eg food, bicycle maintenance, education, skill sharing, technology). Often, it can also mean getting involved in sustaining and developing the space itself. While these practices take place alongside, and typically in tension with, paying rent to a landlord, at stake here is also a set of material practices which generate alternative ways of producing, relating to and “governing” urban space. In what follows we examine in detail the forms of social relation operative here and the political potential and limits of a significant instance of everyday urban commoning. The following can be divided into two halves. The first begins by situating our understanding of the commons. It then introduces the methodological approach adopted in the research, based on a form of “militant research” which we chose because of our own participation in the projects under investigation and because of the unique potential for militant research in terms of addressing the political potential of material practices. The second half of the article begins by introducing the dynamics of enclosure in Dublin over the past two decades as the context in which new independent spaces have emerged. We introduce and describe how these spaces are accessed, produced and organized and the alternative forms of sociality they require and generate. Finally we address the limitations that have been encountered, particularly the high cost of rent and the frequent evictions that have often rendered the spaces precarious and unsustainable. The conclusion explores some tentative responses to these challenges.

    Item Type: Article
    Keywords: commons; urban commoning; urban space; enclosure; militant research;
    Academic Unit: Faculty of Social Sciences > Geography
    Item ID: 12144
    Identification Number:
    Depositing User: Patrick Bresnihan
    Date Deposited: 14 Jan 2020 16:56
    Journal or Publication Title: Antipode
    Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell
    Refereed: Yes
    Use Licence: This item is available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike Licence (CC BY-NC-SA). Details of this licence are available here

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