ABSTRACT

Introduction Today, notions of ‘commons’ take on new currency as forms of enclosure associated with corporate ‘land-grabbing’, and neo-liberal privatisation exerts increasing pressure on the possibilities for rural and collective livelihoods (Harvey 2011; Vasuvedan et al. 2008). Indeed, the longer histories and diverse geographies of (re)claiming commons can be thought of as a counter-current, or series of eruptive counter-currents, to the definition of private property in political economy and in law. However, thinking this way suggests commons as a binary opposite to enclosure – a polarity that I suggest is problematically reductive. Fresh articulations of the commons rely on the claims of earlier movements, but they rework claims, imagery and political agendas such that they perform a different spatial work, sometimes even producing new forms of regulation and containment. In scholarship, rather than being regarded as a universal given, I suggest that the commons must be understood through fine-grained studies which show up continuities, as well as discontinuities, within its mobilisation. In this chapter, I show how revisiting the late nineteenth-century Open Spaces movement through concepts of aesthetics can develop such nuance, whilst also opening new opportunities for politics.