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Commons, Public Space and the Law


Module description

This module examines two major, linked ideas: the commons - both physical and intellectual - and enclosure, as well as the interaction between these orders and the law. Recent years have seen a growing movement towards 'commoning' and the creation or protection of common resources as an alternative to the capitalism/socialism binary and response to collective environmental and other problems.

This innovative module reflects the need to engage with and challenge notions of common resources and enclosure and their relationship to questions of property, race, gender, power, productivity, public space, knowledge, human nature and environmental protection. How do we define 'the commons' and how does this affect our use of resources? How does (should?) the law protect the commons? What is the link between this and environmental protection? What drives or justifies enclosure and what is the impact of this on different communities and the environment? What role does the law play and how do different areas of law, particularly (intellectual) property law and environmental law interact?

Indicative module syllabus

  • Commons and enclosures: an introduction to the course
  • Patent enclosures and their limits
  • Knowledge commons: a critical perspective
  • Enclosure and social ordering: waste, race and gender
  • The Charter of the Forest and beyond: the commons and environmental protection
  • Protecting local commons: town and village green
  • Protecting the global commons: an oceans treaty?
  • Constructing the commons
  • Commons as risk and risk as commons
  • Commons and space

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • understand and explain different perspectives on the commons, both physical and intellectual, local and global
  • apply the theoretical knowledge to different examples of the commons and enclosure to understand their impacts on environmental protection, ownership, particular communities and society more generally
  • understand and critically evaluate the relationship between property law, intellectual property law and environmental law and protection
  • draw on literature from across the social sciences, law and humanities in order to critically engage with concepts, including common resources, ‘waste’, productivity, control, spatiality, locality and the global commons.