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Infrastructuring SuStainable Playbour

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ISSP (Infrastructuring SuStainable Playbour)

Reporting period: 2018-01-08 to 2020-01-07

Initially triggered by the concept of “playbour”, ISSP cared to investigate and better understand the temporal sustainability of grassroots, participatory initiatives that attend to the nurturing of commons - shared resources which are collectively managed outside the scope of market-driven and state-governed logics - through practices of commoning. From caring for urban gardens and collective spaces, to fostering free and open-source projects and infrastructures, such initiatives have proven effective both in creating, sharing and sustaining different forms of value(s) creation and in allowing space for exploring and experimenting with more sustainable, fairer and just subjectivities that are alternative to contemporary, extractivist and neoliberal forms of resources exploitation. However, as commons and commoning progressively show their potential, they attract the interest of extractivist practices on the one hand, and they are loaded with more and more expectations or demands on the others. The long-term sustainability of commons and commoning is therefore an issue that shall not be neglected.

To study this long-term sustainability, ISSP focused particularly on commoners and the conditions of alienation and detachment from their engagement in commons and commoning practices. ISSP had three specific objectives:
(1) to develop a conceptual understanding of the relationship between long term sustainability of engagement and the participants’ subjective dimension;
(2) to develop practical guidelines and recommendations to support the (co)design and implementation of more sustainable infrastructures for collaborative commons;
(3) to develop an interdisciplinary research agenda for further actions on supporting commoning and collaborative infrastructures.
ISSP was implemented as a multiple case study, grounded on qualitative and inductive empirical research traditions. Three different cases of collaborative commons were studied by relying on ethnographic observations and in-depth interviews: (1) a Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS) video game project, as a case of digital commons; (2) a volunteer-based European NGO for the promotion of FOSS and digital rights, as a case of knowledge commons; and (3) a community-led hacker space located in northern Europe, as a case of urban commons. Approximately six weeks of ethnographic observations were conducted for each case; and 34 semi-structured interviews were conducted with commoners who engaged with one of these contexts for eight or more years. In particular, the interviews aimed at understanding (i) commoners’ interactions with other commoners and the infrastructures for commoning; (ii) the boundary work existing between the commitment to commoning and other spheres of commoners’ lives; and (iii) commoners’ considerations on the challenges of sustaining a long-term involvement in commoning. For the analysis, the research used an inductive approach inspired by constructivist grounded theory, which involved a series of iterative coding steps (or labelling) of interview data.

Two publications in major international peer reviewed venues have been achieved during the project targeting design principles and considerations for commons-oriented platforms and infrastructures. Three other publications are expected to be published in the 12 months after the end of the project. These will include analysis of the subjective dimension of engaging in commoning and the challenges of maintaining such engagement over time. From the point of view of public engagement, the action has worked at different levels, such as collaborating in creating interdisciplinary networks of academics, practitioners and civil society, and creating opportunities for public debate on the issue. In particular, a full day final event was organized in the form of open seminar, or mini conference, with the purpose of disseminating to general audience the insights of this research. Furthermore, one press release was published to announce the beginning of the project, and the use of a simple project website with simple information about the developments of the project was used throughout the duration of the project.
ISSP research advanced the state of the art on grassroots, participatory initiatives that attend to the nurturing of commons through practices of commoning by revealing and characterizing the subjective dimension of engaging in commoning and the practical challenges of maintaining such engagement over time. As such, ISSP has provided a new empirically grounded way to care for the commons, and to start filling a gap in commons study: for decades we have focused on commons as resources, and recently started investigating commoning as a practice. ISSP showed the importance of focusing on the commoners as important subjects of commoning.

Furthermore, the interdisciplinary approach taken by ISSP paved the way for future exploitation and research: by translating empirical observational knowledge grounded in STS epistemology and research into practical, actionable knowledge for fields such as participatory design and computer science, it will be possible trying to support the commons, and the commoners in particular, with concrete infrastructural interventions.
"G. Poderi ""Caring about the commoners"", presentation at the ""Long Now of the Commons"", 17/10/19"