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Governance Structures for the Heritage Commons: La Ponte-Ecomuséu-Ecomuseum of Santo Adriano, Spain



This chapter illustrates the importance of incorporating local perceptions of heritage. It addresses governance structures of heritage and the political economies that give rise to them. It stems from a growing dissatisfaction with the ever more dysfunctional and socially and economically unfair character that heritage management has adopted in Spain since the start of a devastating economic crisis in 2008. The aim of our exploratory inquiry is to prompt a necessary debate about new potential forms of heritage governance in Spain that could have broader implications elsewhere in heritage management. To do so, we first situate recent conceptualizations of heritage in the current postindustrial economic context. We draw inspiration from the theory of cognitive capitalism, which argues that the modern economy has superseded the classical differentiation between economic wealth derived from labor processes on one side and physical capital on the other. Cognitive capitalism holds that the wealth created today derives from information technology and knowledge that are the products of human imagination and networks of interaction among people and objects. Such “immaterial wealth” is inherently difficult to value quantitatively or to restrict for proprietary use. As a result, wealth created is realized through mechanisms such as patents or other means to protect intellectual property, with the beneficiaries of that wealth determined by prevailing systems of political economy.
153© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017
P.G. Gould, K.A. Pyburn (eds.), Collision or Collaboration,
One World Archaeology, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-44515-1_11
Chapter 11
Governance Structures for the Heritage
Commons: La Ponte-Ecomuséu -Ecomuseum
of Santo Adriano, Spain
Pablo Alonso González , Alfredo Macías Vázquez , and Jesús Fernández
This chapter illustrates the importance of incorporating local perceptions of heri-
tage. It addresses governance structures of heritage and the political economies that
give rise to them. It stems from a growing dissatisfaction with the ever more dys-
functional and socially and economically unfair character that heritage management
has adopted in Spain since the start of a devastating economic crisis in 2008. The
aim of our exploratory inquiry is to prompt a necessary debate about new forms of
heritage governance in Spain that could have broader implications elsewhere in
heritage management.
To do so, we fi rst situate recent conceptualizations of heritage in the current
postindustrial economic context. We draw inspiration from the theory of cognitive
capitalism . This theory argues that the modern economy has superseded the classi-
cal differentiation between economic wealth derived from labor processes on one
side and physical capital on the other. Instead, cognitive capitalism holds that most
wealth created in contemporary economy derives from information technology and
knowledge, which are the products of human imagination and networks of interac-
tion among people and objects. Such “immaterial wealth” is inherently diffi cult to
value quantitatively or to restrict for proprietary use, as is the case with cultural heri-
tage. As a result, wealth created is realized through mechanisms such as patents or
P. A. González (*)
Institute of Heritage Sciences (INCIPIT-CSIC) , Santiago de Compostela , Spain
A. M. Vázquez
Universidad de León , León , Spain
J. F. Fernández
University of Oxford , Oxford , UK
other means to protect intellectual property, with the benefi ciaries of that wealth
determined by prevailing systems of political economy. We argue that cultural heri-
tage is subordinated to these processes of valorization in the contemporary econ-
omy, and that the political economy of heritage increasingly follows the logic of
property rights such as patents and copyrights. To counter this tendency, we con-
sider it necessary to develop alternative strategies of heritage management, such as
the one we present here: the Ecomuseum of Santo Adriano in Spain.
The New Commons
This perspective suggests that heritage may be understood as a commons. The idea
of immaterial wealth in the economic fi eld can be more or less equated with
Bourdieu’s ( 1984 ) concept of symbolic capital, a formulation that accounts for how
power confi gurations condition differential distributions of capital in society. This
stance implies conceiving heritage as a social construction with historicity. That is,
to understand the context-situated emergence of heritage as a valuable reality (either
tangible or intangible) we must perform anthropological ethnographies and genea-
logical histories. These investigations reveal the socially constructed nature of heri-
tage, allowing us to understand that heritage is dissimilar to “traditional commons”
such as irrigation systems or grazing lands, but should rather be understood to be a
commons on the same terms as the “new commons” of knowledge, arts, or science
(Madison et al. 2010 ; Hess 2008 ). The existence of these “new commons” relies on
their embeddedness in broader environments, because their value, meaning, and
functioning depends on the institutional, social, cognitive, or cultural sphere in
which they perform. In this context, we argue that a form of “peer-production” cre-
ates common pools of immaterial wealth around heritage that we regard as heritage
commons (Alonso Gonzalez 2014 ).
The chapter recognizes that governance structures are required to preserve and
enhance the immaterial wealth produced around heritage commons, but establishes
a difference between the immaterial wealth of heritage itself and the economic
value that can be extracted from it based on specifi c political contexts. Different
political economies of heritage emerge from different confi gurations of the relation
between who creates immaterial wealth and who realizes its value. Drawing on our
experience in La Ponte Ecomuseum , we aim to illustrate the difference between the
activities and social actors who produce and promote the creation of immaterial
heritage wealth, and those who exploit and benefi t from that same heritage wealth.
Our analysis suggests that the current governance framework considers heritage
wealth as a common but does not communalize the value created by it accordingly.
We argue that this is a no-win situation for all the actors involved because this gov-
ernance structure is economically unsustainable and threatens the preservation of
heritage and the potential for peripheral Spanish rural areas to fi nd alternative devel-
opment solutions to problems of poverty and disempowerment. Consequently, ours
is not a naive claim for local autonomy, but a practical attempt to address the
P.A. González et al.
currently unsatisfactory situation for the public, private, and common sectors in
Spain concerning heritage and economic development.
Briefl y, under Spanish corporatist neoliberalism (Alonso González and Macías
Vázquez 2014b ), the public sector transfers funds to the private sector for heritage
development but does not include communities in this economic redistribution. The
nancial resources are mostly provided by the European Union funds for structural
cohesion and rural development. The tragedy here is that the state is unable and
unwilling either to develop coherent policies of heritage enhancement or to let other
actors intervene in the process. This leads to a decrease in the overall amount of
immaterial wealth produced by society, creates a disconnection between communi-
ties from their heritage goods, and ultimately results in the destruction or deteriora-
tion of heritage goods.
Furthermore, because of these policies, entrepreneurs in the rural tourism econ-
omy (hotels, restaurants, tourism service companies, etc.) do not support heritage
enhancement and their business models eventually fail when public subsidies end.
Ultimately, the chapter argues that a potential solution for this conundrum would be
to link together (rather than dissociate) the activities that create immaterial heritage
wealth and those that generate economic value. Actually, even if current governance
structures do not recognize it, both realms are tightly related in their economic and
social operation in practice.
Thus, while the standard neoliberal narrative affi rms that private property is the
locus of freedom and productivity, as opposed to the public sphere, Hardt and Negri
2009 ) argue that today the “common” is the locus of freedom and innovation and
that any privatization or regulation of that common for private benefi t curtails the
production of wealth. This chapter considers the governance structures that are cur-
rently at work in the heritage fi eld in Spain and explores potential models for
commons- based heritage management instead of public and private frameworks. The
nal section presents the case of La Ponte Ecomuseum in Santo Adriano as an illus-
tration, albeit with limited results, of one alternative that is a contribution to a wider
debate on alternative governance structures of heritage in Spain and elsewhere.
Santo Adriano Ecomuseum
Santo Adriano is a rural municipality, traditionally dedicated to farming and agri-
culture, in a process of economic decline. A variety of rural development plans with
strong support from European Union funds have been implemented here in the
attempt to foster a transition to a tertiary sector economy based on cultural tourism.
Currently, the 127 hotel rooms constructed in Santo Adriano nearly outnumber a
local population of 256 people in 2014. However, the public subsidies provided to
private entrepreneurs to develop tourism-related companies (hotels, restaurants, ser-
vice providers, etc.) were not supported by any plan of enhancement and public
outreach to develop appreciation of the rich local cultural heritage among potential
tourist visitors. Valuable heritage assets in the area include landscape and sites
11 Governance Structures for the Heritage Commons: La Ponte-Ecomuséu
catalogued, in the Spanish inventory of legally protected heritage, as Bienes de
Interés Cultural (Heritage of Cultural Interest, HCI) such as the Cueva del Conde ,
the prehistoric rock art shelter of Santo Adriano , or the pre-Romanesque church of
Tuñón. These features are part of a wider group of sites (Asturian rock art and
unique, pre- Romanesque urban sites) included in the UNESCO World Heritage list .
Despite the signifi cance of these heritage features, they lacked a comprehensive
plan for outreach and enhancement.
To address this situation, a group of neighbors and archaeologists created the
local Association La Ponte , whose purpose is to ensure the community members’
direct participation in local decision making through the elaboration of a manage-
ment project for an Ecomuseum . The Ecomuseum encompasses the territory of the
municipality of Santo Adriano and the main heritage sites in it, including the afore-
mentioned HCIs and the cultural landscape of the area. An Ecomuseum can be
defi ned as a human environment that “includes tangible elements such as settle-
ments and the people who live there, individual buildings, cultural artefacts, land
use patterns and domesticated animals, and intangible features such as traditions
and festivals” (Davis
2010 :4).
The La Ponte Ecomuseum of Santo Adriano is one of the multiple initiatives for
the management of heritage commons that are emerging in Spain because of the
complex entanglement between economic crisis and the struggle over heritage for
the rights of use. This experimental project arises from the conviction that heritage
management policies are not working properly and a discussion over their owner-
ship and use should be opened. Therefore, the ideas and initiatives behind the
Ecomuseum are sometimes intuitive and exploratory, rather than convictions that
others should replicate. The central idea behind the San Adriano project is that heri-
tage should be considered as a commons managed by a civic association called La
Ponte. This association includes members of the local resident community inter-
ested in cultural heritage issues and the promotion of tourism. Although the associa-
tion is open to all residents of Santo Adriano, not everyone is interested in heritage
issues and the number of associates has oscillated between 30 and 40 persons, a
good number considering the size and average age of the population.
Since 2012, around 1000 people participate yearly in the different activities of
the Ecomuseum . Although the association is not a representative of the “commu-
nity,” it acts in the best interests of the community regarding heritage management,
creating a new “community of learning” that represents itself. Often, initiatives are
led by a group of archaeologists with experience in heritage and archaeological
management, which does not preclude the participation or passing of initiatives by
other members of the association or the municipality as a whole. Working groups
within the Ecomuseum meet in assemblies and make decisions to deal with specifi c
issues: education, socialization, preservation, etc. From an initial investment of
100, the benefi ts obtained from outreach activities allowed for the creation of a
basic infrastructure: Webpage ( ), an increased outreach capacity,
and the renting and restoration of a traditional building in Villanueva de Santo
Adriano. This building, including a library and an offi ce, is now the visitor center
where exhibitions, assemblies, talks, and workshops are held.
P.A. González et al.
Relations with public and private sectors are established on equal technical, sci-
entifi c, or economic support terms but are fi rmly grounded in community-based
decision making. This means that decisions taken by the regional government or
private companies concerning the heritage of the municipality are discussed and
negotiated by the association, which can take legal measures or start social initia-
tives to support or contest the action of other actors within its territory. The
Ecomuseum has proven to be a functional device for the management and enhance-
ment of heritage in the context of the overriding crisis in Spain and has raised a
series of theoretical and pragmatic questions concerning ideas of archaeological and
cultural heritage, the common, governance , and political economy, that we address
Heritage as Common Immaterial Wealth
After decades of debate in the fi eld of heritage studies, it has become commonplace
to argue that heritage, understood as the uses of the past in the present, is a social
construction (Ashworth et al. 2000 ). For our purposes here, it is useful to adopt an
antiessentialist position and think of heritage as an immaterial construction that has
a material form (even intangible heritage needs to be materially performed by some-
one with something). The increasing appreciation of heritage in postindustrial soci-
eties derives from its association with ideas of beauty, authenticity, nostalgia, and
the past. The value accorded to heritage goods is dynamically dependent on the
existence of high levels of education, knowledge, and cultural awareness in each
society. That is, the immaterial wealth of every heritage good has been constructed
historically; it has a genealogy. The historicity of heritage and the social actors
defi ning it emerge more clearly when studying the past destruction of sites that
today would seem to us inherently valuable, such as Bucharest city center by
Ceausescu or Troy by Schliemann. Heritage ethnographies also describe the com-
plex processes whereby the value of heritage goods emerges and gains social recog-
nition gradually, refl ecting the inherently political and constructed nature of heritage
wealth (Alonso González and Macías Vázquez 2014a ). Sites like the Colosseum in
Rome seem to us to be intrinsically valuable because their historic processes of heri-
tagization are hidden and appear natural to us today.
The relationship between heritage as immaterial wealth and postindustrial econ-
omy has intensifi ed recently. Today, the most valorized sectors of economy are
related to cognitive processes in which value creation does not derive so much from
the transformation of material resources through work involving the use of physical
energy, but rather through thoughts, emotions, and identities. The social and eco-
nomic values of cognitive objects like heritage increase the more the interest, aware-
ness, and knowledge of the public grow. Thus, for the value of heritage to increase
in a knowledge-based economy requires an increased social awareness about
heritage in society as a whole, and not isolated processes of “enhancement” or simi-
lar discourses about individualist “innovation” in heritage management. As Corsani
11 Governance Structures for the Heritage Commons: La Ponte-Ecomuséu
and Rullani affi rm, “an economy based on knowledge is structurally anchored to
sharing: knowledge produces value if it is adopted, and the adoption (in that format
and the consequent standards) makes interdependency” ( 2000 :102). That is, the
value of heritage increases based on the circulation and sharing of knowledge, on
the interdependency between subjects that leads to the identifi cation of certain
objects as valuable.
The prehistoric sites and pre-Romanesque churches of Santo Adriano had been
fenced and closed to the public and therefore lacked any social value beyond their
representation of certain periods of Asturian and Spanish history. They are certainly
more socially valuable since the Ecomuseum started to perform outreach activities
and we began researching the sites and churches.
In other words, the value of heritage increases based on circulation and sharing,
not on the creation of artifi cial scarcity and enclosures of this particular type of
commons. Hardt and Negri (
2009 ) distinguish two kinds of commons. They refer,
on the one hand, to the wealth of the material world that is often claimed as a heri-
tage of humanity to be shared, e.g., the traditional commons: forests, grazing lands,
or water. On the other hand, they consider as common goods the results of produc-
tion derived from social interaction, e.g., knowledge, codes, information, language,
or emotions. The political economies that emerge around the different varieties of
commons are always context dependent because of the complex interaction between
forms of wealth creation, governance frameworks, and politics of production and
redistribution. In the classic defi nition, a common good is one the use of which is
open to all (nonexcludable) yet the use by one person does not diminish the quantity
available to others (nonrival). Because heritage is uniquely linked to particular
locales and people, yet is both nonrival and nonexcludable, it can be conceived as a
situated common good. This involves stepping away from UNESCO’s Universalist
conception of heritage as a common good of humanity to acknowledge the complex
local articulation of epistemologies, politics, and economies surrounding heritage.
As will be discussed later, commons are not “naturally good” nor do they automati-
cally have a positive infl uence in knowledge sharing, cooperation, or the improve-
ment of the socioeconomic conditions of human societies.
In Kopytoff’s ( 1986 ) terms, heritage policies declare the uniqueness of heritage
goods and their incommensurability with other features existing in society. Those
policies attempt to insert the singularity provided by heritage into dynamic scenar-
ios where difference creates value based on differentials among people in social
desire and perceptions of the exotic. There are also processes whereby the value of
heritage emerges from social interests, or from community, family, or individual
choice. In other words, certain “given” heritages become “constructed” as socially
valuable through processes of social interaction embedded in power regimes and
economic frameworks (Alonso Gonzalez 2014 ). In San Adriano, for instance, the
vernacular hut of Andrúas has not been declared an HCI. Yet the hut, which is situ-
ated on common land and used by shepherds in high pasture areas, has an important
symbolic value for local inhabitants. Now, the Ecomuseum is presenting it as
heritage and including it in outreach activities and tours. That is, the hut of Andrúas
has become heritage through the mediation of knowledge: a building otherwise
P.A. González et al.
damned to disappearance is now considered of folkloric or ethnographic value and
presented as a valuable element to visitors. The understanding of local perceptions
of heritage value is an important step often omitted in tourism development plans in
our region. This partially explains their failure, because policies usually counter
subjective local perceptions of what is valuable (Benito Del Pozo and Alonso
González 2012 ).
The foregoing conceptualization of heritage as socially constructed implies that
it is not a traditional commons. Accordingly, the debate can move beyond the choice
of appropriate governance mechanisms to preserve traditional commons resources
(see Gould, Chap.
12 this volume). What matters is not only to identify the most
appropriate rules to address social dilemmas that can destroy heritage resources, but
to explain the complex variety of processes involved in the social construction of a
heritage commons and the political economies around it. Generally, private and
public actors do not care about the preservation of heritage, but the fact that they
create exclusive structures in order to extract fi nancial value from the social value of
heritage means that something is being “enclosed” (De Angelis 2003 ). That some-
thing is the common, which escapes the conventional logics of production/con-
sumption, and to which the logic of scarcity, which is central to conventional
commons discourse, does or need not apply.
In conclusion, while individual elements of heritage may be unique, the social
value created by it is not a scarce resource. Its potential users do not compete among
themselves because its consumption is not characterized by rivalry. It is not a divis-
ible resource, which makes it diffi cult to allocate costs and benefi ts for each heritage
producer and user. Finally, it is a nonexcludable good, because it is diffi cult to pre-
vent nonowners from using heritage or the esthetic, knowledge or scientifi c values
produced from it by means of copy or imitation. Thus, the logic that applies to a
traditional commons is reversed: the maximization of value does not derive from
controlling its social production and exploitation but from the multiplication of its
uses. The compelling questions, then, revolve around the uses of heritage and the
political roots of different use regimes.
The Appropriation of the Immaterial Value of Heritage
In the neoclassical framework of industrial capitalism, rent (revenue earned in
excess of a market price) was extracted due to the exclusive ownership of a resource.
Whereas rent was considered external to the productive process, normal profi t was
seen as the result of investment in the productive process and the capacity to gener-
ate surplus. Industrial capitalists considered rentier behaviors as backward and anti-
liberal because they merely extracted a rent from the wealth produced by others
2008 ). This is only possible because certain social actors control the
political and social environment where economic activities take place. In this chap-
ter, we argue that this process is plainly manifest in the realm of heritage and our
particular case study.
11 Governance Structures for the Heritage Commons: La Ponte-Ecomuséu
Today, the state and the Spanish Catholic Church do not extract rents from the
property of heritage goods. Rather, the state is supposedly in charge of creating heri-
tage wealth or value through research, preservation, the construction of museums,
and outreach tasks, while the private sector extracts rents without participating in
the process of wealth creation. Entrepreneurs obtain surplus value “from the exploi-
tation of a common cognitive space” (Pasquinelli 2008 :94) , such as the beautiful
landscapes, the signifi cance of heritage sites in a territory, the gastronomy, or the
forms of life of local peasants. Therefore, this is not the conventional public good
argument whereby the state subsidizes the creation of heritage so that all groups can
benefi t. Rather, subsidies are directly transferred to private companies to profi t from
the distinctiveness of certain heritage resources. Because the state does not inter-
vene to reallocate benefi ts to the community that lives nearby and preserves the
heritage values tapped by entrepreneurs, it seems fair to argue for a community-
based governance structure associated with a different distribution of profi ts.
Harvey ( 2002 :193) has shown how cognitive capitalism is constantly forced to fi nd
new material and immaterial forms of valorization based on the enclosure of com-
mons. This includes the search for marks of distinction produced by heritage in local
environments, which then can give rise to direct and indirect monopoly rents. Social
actors exploiting indirect monopoly rents draw on fl ows of capital derived from the
rent differential provided by certain distinctions. That is, they extract economic value
from the collective symbolic capital provided by, for instance, being located nearby a
heritage site. In turn, direct monopoly rents result from the commodities or services
produced through use of the heritage, such as heritage tours or museum tickets. These
monopolies are fed by “collective symbolic capital,” the immaterial wealth accumu-
lated by social cooperation that endows meaning to heritage.
Thus, the key to the matter is not the question of property (which, in our view,
should adopt mixed forms combining public, private, and common property forms
depending on context) but the question of the rights of use: different communities of
actors (tourists, experts, local neighbors, etc.) should be allowed to use heritage
resources. What is discussed here is the fact that public institutions in two ways favor
private entrepreneurs over other actors. First, entrepreneurs receive subsidies to exploit
heritage resources and, second, they are allocated advantageous positions to appropri-
ate the benefi ts provided by direct and indirect rents associated with heritage.
In our view, the local community should play a central role in heritage manage-
ment, while public bodies should facilitate opportunities for communities and the
civic associations linked to them to enjoy at least the same economic and legal
benefi ts as private enterprises. This is not because we argue for an essentialist con-
nection between heritage and community. We do so in this particular case because
the community in San Adriano aims to represent itself, take care of and enhance
local heritage, and because the heritage happens to be the territory of the commu-
nity. The private sector is characterized by a “growing un-interest in the how or
where of production in favor of the capture of already existing value” (Hanlon
2014 :178). The result is that private businesses supported by public institutions can
extract direct monopoly rent over the immaterial wealth of heritage. This situation
gives rise to our perspective.
P.A. González et al.
The characteristics of the current political economies of heritage make us think
that it is necessary, fi rst, to have common property rights over heritage sanctioned
or recognized by the state. Second and more importantly, there is a need to establish
functioning modes of common governance that ensure local autonomy and eco-
nomic sustainability. In a context of capitalist competition, the sustainability of
heritage governance frameworks requires fi nding a balance between two main ele-
ments. First, the creation of heritage wealth through knowledge spread and educa-
tion (i.e., activities usually carried out by public institutions including basic and
applied research or outreach). Second, the appropriation or enclosure of heritage
wealth to generate rents through commoditization or to generate scarcity and rents
from heritage externalities (i.e., the funds allocated to the private sector placing
hotels in privileged sites like the Natural Park of Somiedo in our case study).
In Spain, and especially in our particular case, this balance is neither sought nor
achieved. Governance models only focus on the second process: the appropriation
and enclosure of wealth without regard to the common social cooperation that sus-
tains wealth and the process of education that increases it. This problem is accentu-
ated by the long-standing reluctance of the Spanish private sector to participate in
any form of cultural or scientifi c patronage, nor even to invest in the cultural sector
that could provide indirect monopoly rents in the heritage fi eld such as museums,
archaeological excavations, or restorations. Rather, private entrepreneurs concen-
trate on extracting direct monopoly rents from the externalities of heritage (i.e., the
common cognitive space mentioned earlier) such as locating profi table businesses
in heritage rich areas, often supported by public subsidies.
This situation is illustrated by a 2001 plan for the touristic promotion of the Bear
Valleys that included Santo Adriano. The goal was to market the area by underscor-
ing the idea that the beauty and wealth of the territory of Asturias derives from its
allegedly natural character, contradicting archaeological evidence and ignoring the
role of the interaction between people and environment that confi gured an intrinsi-
cally cultural landscape (Fernández Mier et al.
2014 ). The program spent 39 % of the
total funding amount (1,536,000) in the construction of museums and their equip-
ment, among them a center for the interpretation of nature in Tuñón (Álvarez Solís
2000 ). However, the center was never inaugurated because the municipality did not
have the necessary endowments to afford the maintenance of the equipment and the
personnel. Other public initiatives including the European programs LEADER and
PRODER have continued to channel large amounts of capital to the tourism sector
with rather poor results for the overall economic performance of the territory.
This governance structure refl ects an underlying political project geared toward
the creation of political economies of heritage based on the transformation of the
commons into a commodity from which rents can be extracted. This is related to the
growing global pressure for stronger intellectual property regimes such as patents,
copyrights, or trademarks over common digital and material domains to reintroduce
artifi cial scarcity. In heritage, one example is the UNESCO or national classifi ca-
tions of heritage sites that mark their uniqueness.
The realm of heritage combines different forms of rents. There are “traditional”
rents such as those that apply to lands or real estate markets, where symbols can
11 Governance Structures for the Heritage Commons: La Ponte-Ecomuséu
endow wealth to material realities, as in the case of wine, shellfi sh or olive oil regions,
or real estate markets in heritage cities such as Barcelona or Berlin. One example of
the “new” rents arising in the new commons are rents that can be obtained by keeping
the monopoly of a secret (patents to control invention) or controls over the right to
multiply uses of an invention (copyright to control imitation). These different types
of rents emerge following different uses and political economies of heritage.
Immaterial wealth obtained through patents is exemplifi ed by the heritagization
of traditional indigenous knowledge in South America, especially by pharmaceuti-
cal or food processing companies. However, most heritage policies are closer to
copyright strategies, whereby common heritages embodied in knowledge and tradi-
tion serve to reinforce national identities and memories and to position those in the
market. In Asturias , the regional government has implemented similar strategies by,
for instance, granting a special heritage protection status to certain practices that
supposedly represent Asturian culture, including the Matanza del cerdo (Pig
Slaughter), Misa de gaita (Bagpipe Mass), and Cultura de la sidra (Cider Culture).
Similarly, the evolution of UNESCO tends to mirror the functioning of cognitive
capitalism and copyright strategies. The World Heritage lists of Intangible Heritage
sanction certain practices as unique in ways that resemble trademarks . Heritage lists
and categories operate as a series of nested strategies for the creation of marks of
difference, from the local to the national. This resembles the operation of the
national brands that attempt to increase of overall immaterial wealth of nations. The
declaration of the Gastronomic Meal of the French as World Heritage illustrates this
point and, unsurprisingly, Asian countries like China openly treat intangible heri-
tage as a commodity central in development strategies.
All these strategies are geared to the creation of symbolic capital, which leads to
an asymmetry between the immaterial wealth of heritage and the political econo-
mies that benefi t from it. As Pasquinelli (
2008 :150) would put it, wealth “is accu-
mulated on the immaterial level but the profi ts are made on the material one.” The
question for Harvey ( 2002 :105) is then to determine “which segments of the popu-
lation are to benefi t most from the collective symbolic capital to which everyone
has, in their own distinctive ways, contributed both now and in the past. Why let the
monopoly rent attached to that symbolic capital be captured only by the multina-
tionals or by a small powerful segment of the local bourgeoisie?” The next section
will point toward potential ways of addressing these imbalances.
Toward an Alternative Framework of Uses for Heritage
Commons: Reappropriating Immaterial Wealth?
This brief outline of problems associated with the separation between the creation
of heritage wealth and the political economy governing heritage points to the neces-
sity of generating governance alternatives. Because the identifi cation of certain
resources as common does not immediately point to any specifi c property regime or
P.A. González et al.
governance solution, it is necessary to adopt context specifi c and often hybrid solu-
tions. In a sort of semicommon management strategy, the Ecomuseum has oscil-
lated between complete self-organization and autonomous management, and the
establishment of partnerships with the heritage public sector. Securing common
rights to heritage property that are recognized by public institutions and legislation
could be seen as a step forward. However, we have articulated the struggle around
rights of use rather than ownership of heritage property. A better governance frame-
work for heritage commons requires shifting focus from questions of property rights
to pragmatic issues of sustainability and performance. We have followed what
Fennell (
2011 :10) calls Ostrom’s Law: A resource arrangement that works in prac-
tice can work in theory. In our case, this means that once a functioning productive
model exists, rights of use are more easily granted or acquired by other social actors.
For example, the regional government has granted the Ecomuseum the right to use
the Cueva del Conde and the shelter of Santo Adriano, while the Archdiocese of
Oviedo has done so with the Tuñón church.
The question of property rights should be secondary for another reason: under
cognitive capitalism , those who extract rents from the wealth of heritage do not care
about whether heritage is public, private, or common property. The problem is that
governance structures favor the entrepreneur over the researcher, the mediator, and
the local community that preserves and reproduces certain heritage resources. The
latter generate and spread wealth while the former are supposedly “alert to the value
or opportunity that is already there, and because they have the initiative to capture
it, they have the right to all of that value” (Hanlon 2014 :184). Private entrepreneurs
in the tourism economy would be happy to recognize the common property of heri-
tage assets and to have communities enhance and diffuse it through voluntary work.
This has partially been the case in the Ecomuseum , where community work has
been employed to clean and enhance heritage sites, increasing the symbolic capital
of the area and thus private entrepreneurs’ potential future benefi ts. This is not a
viable solution for communities or heritage workers, because they create heritage
value but the economic rents are appropriated by others in the tourism economy.
The civic association La Ponte and the Ecomuseum have not devised nor put
forward a new model for the governance of heritage, something unfeasible without
a broader discussion at least at a regional level. However, they consider it necessary
to move toward a new framework whereby the public sector, the local community,
and private entrepreneurs establish a new set of relations in a dynamic and situated
way. Of course, there are different kinds of private entrepreneurs, and they collabo-
rate with the Ecomuseum, which should remain a nonprofi t structure for heritage
governance in charge of coordinating the efforts of various social actors. Because
our theorization regards heritage commons as the product of dynamic relations
between subjects, we also consider that governance structures should be dynamic
and overcome the ossifi ed bureaucratic model characteristic of many continental
European countries. The authors consider that the experiment of the Ecomuseum
should allow for a broader discussion beyond the municipality of Santo Adriano in
terms of heritage governance .
11 Governance Structures for the Heritage Commons: La Ponte-Ecomuséu
Conversations held with representatives of the public sector, including members
of European development projects such as LEADER , with the heritage counselor of
the regional government, and with the outreach and innovation members of the
University of Oviedo , reveal the lack of will to initiate a dialog and discuss the terms
of the current governance model. This is similar to other European schemes, where
an ossifi ed public bureaucracy legally defi nes and monitors heritage sites, sometimes
investing in heritage preservation and enhancement, while funds are transferred to
private entrepreneurs to profi t from public expenditures. Communities are overshad-
owed and even tourists are harmed, as their heritage experience is hindered or heavily
commoditized, with sites closed, prices high, resources overexploited.
Any viable solution to this asymmetry requires allowing the productive actors in
the heritage economy to earn a share of the rents from the wealth they produce. The
eld of the digital commons has provided a good starting point for our initiative
because debates are more developed in this area than in heritage studies. The
Ecomuseum’s current hybrid situation, whereby we comanage sites with the
regional government and the Church, actually resembles a “copyfarleft” digital
license (see Kleiner
2007 ). These agreements require the parties to agree to a trade-
off compromise in order to claim a recognition of different legal statuses and rights
of use according to the different users and management frameworks.
Similarly, mixed systems of governance with hybrid rights of use of heritage
could be established with different rules applying for different users. Different man-
agement frameworks should apply between for-profi t, private enterprises employ-
ing wage labor and those working in a commons-based production model, including
cooperatives or associations of neighbors. These mixed systems act at a local level
to raise public awareness about the asymmetries between the accumulation of col-
lective symbolic capital through heritage preservation, diffusion and knowledge,
and its appropriation by private enterprises that do not contribute to the reproduction
of the immaterial wealth of heritage. At the same time, they can reconnect commu-
nities with their heritage or invent new traditions to reinforce community. In Santo
Adriano this has included the recovery of traditional foods and of estafeiras (collec-
tive works by neighbors), and the creation of food exchange groups.
New forms of formal governance, however, only solve the problems communi-
ties and common organizations face in gaining access to heritage sites. Ensuring the
sustainability of common governance structures would require not only having
access to enhance and valorize heritage, but to obtain tangible benefi ts from it
through ownership of for-profi t entities such as hotels or restaurants. In that light, it
seems legitimate to argue for a transfer of funds from the public to the common
sector that is at least analogous to the transfers made to the private sector under the
current framework of neoliberal governance.
Successful experiences of heritage management where public or semipublic
institutions have played a central role already exist, such as the Historian’s Offi ce of
Havana in Cuba . The Historian’s Offi ce restores and maintains the Old Havana
World Heritage Site , combining a managerial with a humanitarian approach. For-
profi t businesses are run by the institution, such as hotels, restaurants, or real estate,
rather than subcontracted to external businesses or companies as in most neoliberal
P.A. González et al.
models. The benefi ts from these for-profi t businesses support the investment in
social care and heritage preservation and enhancement that keeps the restoration
going. The latter are not considered losses, but necessary investments to sustain the
accumulation of symbolic capital that provides rents to economically profi table
activities in the tourism sector. In other words, the benefi ts from the collective sym-
bolic capital of Old Havana ensure the sustainability of heritage wealth while
improving the quality of life in the area. Further research should address similar
experiences in other contexts (e.g., rural areas) that could function as models for
heritage commons projects as our own.
The Experience of La Ponte Ecomuséu
Facing the lack of planning and unsustainable policies in our territory, the sociocul-
tural Association La Ponte took the lead in Santo Adriano and started developing
initiatives to promote sustainable heritage management. The association has been
running for 4 years and can be described as a governance structure for the local
commons, including heritage. It does not enjoy public subsidies but does guarantee
the direct participation of local people in decision-making processes. Within the
association, a work group was initiated to implement an Ecomuseum and to manage
the long-term expectations and organizational structures. The association has its
own legal framework as a nonprofi t entity, in which all revenue is reinvested in the
Ecomuseum . Ultimately, the aim is that the Ecomuseum could earn an income for
people through heritage, and that people would work on heritage preservation and
enhancement. At present, it can only employ one person, but the aim is to create
economies of scale around heritage preservation to increase its reach. However, the
association does not own any for-profi t business and therefore it relies on the reve-
nue from its heritage outreach activities, such as routes and tours with tourists,
schools, and other institutions. The idea is to provide a service and to reinforce com-
munity identity, acknowledging that entrepreneurs in the area benefi t the most from
our activities.
Accommodating our collective nonprofi t organization in the Spanish legal and
institutional framework, i.e., trying to nest it in the system assuming the logic of
subsidiarity, proved daunting. A practical example can encapsulate the whole situa-
tion and illustrate how activities that produce wealth are disregarded if no immedi-
ate economic gain can be extracted from them. Our association designed a
development plan for the Ecomuseum, conceiving it as a heritage-based social
knowledge enterprise, and sent it to the Knowledge Transfer Offi ce at the University
of Oviedo in an attempt to gain recognition and support. However, the proposal has
not yet been approved due to the conclusion that the Ecomuseum could not be con-
sidered a spin-off business because it was considered as a humanities enterprise
without a technological base, and therefore could not produce knowledge that could
be enclosed through copyright or patent. The humanistic kind of knowledge is not
supported because it does not allow for the direct extraction of rents through patents
11 Governance Structures for the Heritage Commons: La Ponte-Ecomuséu
and copyrights, but rather produces and spreads new wealth. Only the extraction of
already existing wealth is promoted, without regard to how or by whom that wealth
was produced. In other words, outside the rentier mentality of entrepreneurship, the
common social production of wealth based on heritage is not currently recognized
in Spain.
According to law, the Ecomuseum has a private character, as a nonprofi t, which
collides with the current policy of the public sector not to delegate the management
of the heritage commons in our territory to our organization (although our proposal
has triggered an internal debate among heritage technicians working for the Regional
Government). The question we ask is: Why catalog a heritage site de jure as an HCI
(a public good) if its public status entails deprivation for the people and the local
community. Access is restricted and sites enclosed, and only groups of experts with-
out proposals for enhancement and outreach are usually allowed into them.
Furthermore, public institutions fail to accomplish their duties. For example, sites
like the famous Paleolithic cave of Santo Adriano could not be accessed due to the
amount of rubbish and landfi ll around and within the cave until our association
cleaned it without any public support. This situation contravenes the fundamental
principle of enhancement because it conveys to the public and to local people a sense
that their heritage is something uninteresting and that it cannot produce wealth.
We suggest that a way of avoiding this problem would be to conceive public heri-
tage as a commons and to assign a legal form to this novel status. Whereas public
property is owned by the state and can become a market good (as shown in the priva-
tization of heritage assets in Italy and Greece) common property belongs to everyone
or, even better, to no one. It is not only public (it must be shared) but is also common
(its management must be consensual and agreed upon). Of course, common owner-
ship does not mean that no one is responsible for heritage: Again, we shift focus from
questions of property to the ethics involved in the rights of use and the redistribution
of value in a scenario of poor public sector management structures.
As previously mentioned, we did not achieve the legal status as a heritage com-
mons for the Ecomuseum , but managed to be granted the right of use over the heri-
tage sites in our territory. This created a new situation in terms of the hybrid status
of heritage entities and of our organization. Although this tiny step forward might
seem irrelevant, it marks a turning point in the history of heritage management in
Asturias that can become an example for similar organizations throughout Spain
and elsewhere. The ultimate aim is collective administration of common pool
resources in order to render heritage an inalienable good. This can be done through
local councils, foundations, cooperatives, associations, and similar organizations.
As in Ostrom’s model, it would be necessary to establish boundaries in dialog with
private and public actors, and sanctions to those infringing the norms.
However, the terms of these agreements are not for us to establish and must be
left to the democratic decision making of the community. The fact that the commu-
nity is now empowered to refl ect and discuss on equal terms with other actors is
already a step forward in our context. It is necessary to keep in mind that the long-
term preservation of heritage derives from establishing emotional and immanent
relations with people, who only preserve what they value and only when they par-
P.A. González et al.
ticipate in its cocreation. As people feel more related to their heritage in Santo
Adriano, preservation becomes easier, heritage knowledge increases and spreads,
and the immanent connection with local heritage is reestablished.
Our experience in the Ecomuseum has shown us how “heritage givens” are not
intrinsically valuable. Even the most prominent heritage sites have no value in
themselves if disconnected from society and tourism networks, and when kept
under rigid public frameworks of heritage protection lacking a coherent plan of
sustainable territorial development. The construction of immaterial heritage wealth
requires the agency of mediators who connect sites with an educated public and
ensure that commoditization and tourism processes do not get out of hand in terms
of discourse and direct and indirect damage to heritage.
Through campaigns to raise awareness, heritage tours and talks, visits for stu-
dents and tourists, academic seminars, and similar initiatives, the Ecomuseum is
increasing the immaterial wealth of the territory, reinvesting benefi ts in it collec-
tively in different ways, and countering the tendency toward depopulation. Thus, it
does not create an enclosure or artifi cial scarcity over heritage goods to maximize
the extraction of rents. Rather, it spreads knowledge and involves more and more
actors in the cocreation of heritage wealth. In the Ecomuseum, revenues, such as
fees and tips made by tour guides, go back to the common treasury of the Ecomuseum.
The benefi ts are mainly used to preserve heritage sites and to pay the rent for the
Ecomuseum building and the salary of the only worker employed by it.
This conception goes against the prevailing political articulation of heritage, ter-
ritorial, and rural development policies in Spain, which promote the transfer of pub-
lic funds to private hands both directly and indirectly. It does so directly by
subsidizing individual private entrepreneurs to implement rural development pro-
grams geared to promote the transition to service sector economies. Most public
investment is directed to the creation of hotels, restaurants, and tourism companies
that tap the collective symbolic capital of the territory without supporting heritage
promotion (Alonso González and Fernández Fernández
2013 ). It does so indirectly
because the public sector assumes the costs of unprofi table activities related to heri-
tage enhancement and promotion, including museum management; heritage, archi-
tectural, and landscape preservation; and knowledge production. Elsewhere, we
have labeled the process in which the state props up the market, losses are social-
ized, and benefi ts privatized as “the heritage machine” (Alonso González
2014 ).
The governance structure of the Ecomuseum differs from the model of “trusts”
or nonprofi ts in the United Kingdom or the United States because of its emphasis on
the social character of heritage projects and the need for economic redistribution
and democratic decision making. Contrary to many trusts and nonprofi ts, the
Ecomuseum is not a concession from the state but an initiative emerging from the
ground up, based on local self-refl ection and the mediation of heritage-trained local
archaeologists. Thus, it stands in stark contrast with other development initiatives
that are far from democratic, such as European rural technocratic (rather than demo-
cratic) development institutions under LEADER or PRODER frameworks, which
transfer millions of public funds to the private sector without any form of account-
ability to taxpayers.
11 Governance Structures for the Heritage Commons: La Ponte-Ecomuséu
From an initial investment of capital near to zero, our initiative has generated
great intangible heritage wealth and even some economic income, attracting tour-
ism and strengthening community networks and a social cooperative structure that
has ensured the continuation of the project. Moreover, the visitors and tourists
attracted by our work allow private companies in the area to obtain benefi ts without
the need for public investments that have unfortunate results. This does not mean
that the Ecomuseum can replace the management structure of the state (although it
challenges the traditional state procedure of creating large museums and visitor
centers for mass tourism), but its relative success raises a number of questions.
What would happen if local initiatives like the Ecomuseum were promoted at a
larger scale and granted subsidies similar to those private companies receive? What
would happen if community-based projects were supported and allowed to own
profi t-making businesses such as hotels or restaurants collectively? The pragmatic
rather than utopian character of these demands becomes clear after a detailed analy-
sis of the current situation. The public sector does not preserve or promote heritage.
Foreign investors with public subsidies create heritage-related businesses. If things
go well, they employ some local workers (waiters, cleaners, etc.) without taking
care of local heritage (gastronomy, landscapes, pathways, etc.). If things go poorly,
they leave, and the public money is lost. Considering that local people are also pub-
lic taxpayers, this seems rather unfair to them. Under a logic where what matters is
the maximization of profi ts, this seems reasonable, but not under a logic of the com-
mon good aimed at improving the quality of life of people.
What would happen if public investments were directed to support seedbeds of
small scale and locally based projects based on heritage enhancement, instead of
furthering the current failed model of fund transfers to private hands and large
investments? At a regional or national level, why not develop a network of heritage
mediators, rooted in the territory but with specialized knowledge in heritage, his-
tory, or archaeology? Would not heritage be enhanced and the overall collective
symbolic value of the territory increase in a win–win situation for every sector
Governance structures should be devised to ensure the management of heritage.
What is at stake is whether or not these structures are sustainable and promote the
engagement and reinforcement of the identity of communities, and who benefi ts
most from their political economies. Nonhierarchical governance structures could
ensure territorial sustainability and prevent the overriding depopulation of rural
areas and heritage deterioration. Economic development cannot be exported to rural
areas through investments in large structures, it must emerge from the local reser-
voirs of knowledge from which new skills and knowledge proliferate gradually, of
the kinds promoted in a knowledge economy (Macías Vazquez and Alonso Gonzalez
2016 ).
This case study of Santo Adriano illustrates the diffi culties, but also the neces-
sity, of developing new heritage governance structures in Spain. The Ecomuseum
has only managed to replace the functions relinquished by the state, i.e., the activi-
ties that generate heritage wealth. In addition, the Ecomuseum has ensured a mini-
mum revenue to keep going through direct rents obtained from services offered to
P.A. González et al.
tourists and institutions. However, indirect rents and the political economy of the
territory are still framed in a way that precludes sustainability. As we have attempted
to show, neither the public nor private sectors are concerned with heritage enhance-
ment, only with the realization of huge investments (public sector) and the extrac-
tion of direct monopoly rents from already existing wealth (private sector).
Our initiative aims to spark debate and to stimulate others to join the task of
developing strategies for commons governance and wealth creation that are shorn of
the characteristics of the rentier (i.e., strategies that do not seek to channel the gen-
eration of wealth to the more privileged segments of society). We envision a
community- based, diffuse pattern of heritage management in alliance with the pub-
lic sector, which is in theory a realm where citizens have delegated the management
of the commons. In it, the overall production of knowledge and immaterial heritage
wealth would increase, profi ts and loses would be equally socialized by public and
private sectors, and communities could reestablish their connection with heritage
assets and ensure their protection as reproducible, nonrival, and nonexcludable
goods. Further research is required to explore new conceptualizations and practical
experiences where heritage plays a central role in forms of alternative economic
development, and this chapter aims to spark debate in this direction.
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P.A. González et al.
... Visión que ha llevado a la retórica de la supuesta «participación» de las comunidades en la gestión, que viene a suponer otra forma más de imponer nuevas formas de gobernanza en el medio rural (Alonso González, González-Álvarez y Roura-Expósito, 2018). El grupo de investigación Llabor (Llaboratoriu Rural d'historia y patrimoniu) de la Universidad de Oviedo puso en marcha desde el año 2010 un proyecto arqueológico en el medio rural que focaliza la atención en la investigación de las aldeas habitadas aún en la actualidad, tomando dos pueblos asturianos como laboratorio de investigación con el objetivo de comprender los procesos de conformación del paisaje en la larga duración (Fernández Mier, Alonso González, 2016;Fernández Fernández, 2017;Fernández Fernández, Fernández Mier, 2019). Nuestra propuesta de investigación ha permitido comprender de forma compleja las prácticas económicas implementadas por las comunidades rurales que han transformado el paisaje sobre el que aún actúan y en el que viven. ...
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En la última década la arqueología comunitaria ha experimentado un importante crecimiento en España. Este crecimiento se explica, en algunos casos, por la necesaria reinvención de los arqueólogos tras el colapso de la profesión ligada a la crisis económica que se inicia en el 2009; en otros casos está relacionado con la cada vez más demandada divulgación científica dentro del marco de la transferencia de conocimiento. Esto ha supuesto la realización de programas didácticos paralelos a los proyectos de investigación arqueológica. En este artículo presentamos la experiencia de arqueología comunitaria realizada por el grupo de investigación Llabor que lleva a cabo los trabajos arqueológicos en el yacimiento de Vigaña, el colegio público y el Ayuntamiento de Balmonte de Miranda. Un ensayo que puede ser un buen ejemplo para desarrollar experiencias similares en ámbitos rurales.
... The literature tends to describe heritage value by emphasising its potential to generate cohesion and identity. However, in many cases, there is little knowledge of the distinct narratives or discourses that are embedded within different communities [2]. From our perspective, valuing heritage has two distinct aspects: it is considered a remnant of the past and resource for the future. ...
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This paper suggests that contemporary capitalism is increasingly shaped by a ‘finderskeepers’ model of entrepreneurship. Intellectually, this model has its origins in the Austrian School of Economics and, as such, it has been bolstered by the neo-liberal turn of post-fordism. Its greatest proponent is Kirzner. The model is ideological in that it attempts to legitimate entrepreneurial capture as the ‘ultimate knowledge’ despite the fact that it does not create, innovate, or produce. It is also increasingly engaged in the use of property rights as a means of capturing value produced beyond the corporation through ‘free’ labour and the enclosing of skills and knowledge developed elsewhere. As such, it encourages a society based in secrecy and mistrust.
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El artículo realiza un análisis etnográfico de la actual situación de crisis económica, política y social en España a partir del estudio de caso de un Grupo de Desarrollo Rural en Asturias (España). Este grupo canaliza los fondos comunitarios LEADER a una región en proceso de decadencia económica y despoblación, intentando generar una identidad ficticia en el territorio de cara a su mercantilización a través de un proyecto de Parque Cultural de raigambre académica que no se llega a realizar, siendo reemplazado por una serie de inversiones faraónicas en infraestructuras. La investigación argumenta la necesidad de incrementar nuestro conocimiento, desde un punto de vista ontológico, de las prácticas y realidades construidas por los actores sociales en casos concretos, de cara a la comprensión del neoliberalismo corporativo español, a medio camino entre formas tradicionales de clientelismo y el libre mercado. Un fenómeno híbrido que criticamos pero desconocemos, en el que comunidades cómplices distribuyen recursos públicos sin rendir cuentas a una ciudadanía que parcialmente ignora, tolera y participa –activa o pasivamente– en el proceso. Asimismo, se ofrece un estudio de caso de por qué la transmisión de conocimiento falla en España, afirmando que este se debe no a prácticas epistemológicas incorrectas sino a las propias dinámicas de las comunidades cómplices, que pueden prescindir del mismo para su reproducción. Finalmente, se argumenta que «lo político» ha de mantenerse como una categoría construida en contextos etnográficos si se quiere retener una actitud crítica, ante el riesgo de neutralizar el concepto por su ubicuidad
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Se analiza la construcción social del Campo de Tiro Militar de El Teleno como reserva natural a partir de la retórica auspiciada por el “giro ambientalista” del Ministerio de Defensa. Ante la conflictividad existente en Maragatería, esta estrategia de contención deviene en una sublimación ideológica: la posibilidad de la preservación (natural) viene dada por la reproducción necesaria de la destrucción (humana). Por su parte, las estrategias de resistencia han adoptado formas diferentes. Entre ellas, la construcción social del Teleno como patrimonio cultural socava la estrategia de sublimación del C.M.T. como “paraíso natural”, mostrando la fuerte presencia humana previa en la zona. Ambas metanarrativas se han convertido en el pilar fundamental alrededor del cual se organizan las luchas simbólicas entre instituciones y activistas, lo que representa un cambio fundamental al dejar fuera a las personas y las relaciones inmanentes de las comunidades con el bosque. En ambos discursos metaculturales, se reproduce la separación entre naturaleza y cultura tan característica de la modernidad.
Elinor Ostrom's work has immeasurably enhanced legal scholars' understanding of property. Although the richness of these contributions cannot be distilled into a single thesis, their flavor can be captured in a maxim I call Ostrom's Law: A resource arrangement that works in practice can work in theory. Ostrom's scholarship challenges the conventional wisdom by examining how people interact over resources on the ground - an approach that enables her to identify recurring institutional features associated with long-term success. In this essay, I trace some of the ways that Ostrom's focus on situated examples has advanced interdisciplinary dialogue about property as a legal institution and as a human invention for solving practical problems. I begin by highlighting the attention to detail that characterizes Ostrom's methodology. I then examine how Ostrom's scholarship yields insights for, and employs insights from, property theory. Next, I consider the question of scale, an important focal point of Ostrom's work, and one that carries profound implications for law. I conclude with some observations about interdisciplinarity as it relates to research on the commons.
That culture has become a commodity of some sort is undeniable. Yet there is also a widespread belief that there is something so special about certain cultural products and events (be they in the arts, theatre, music, cinema, architecture or more broadly in localized ways of life, heritage, collective memories and affective communities) as to set them apart from ordinary commodities like shirts and shoes. While the boundary between the two sorts of commodities is highly porous (perhaps increasingly so) there are still grounds for maintaining an analytic separation. It may be, of course, that we distinguish cultural artefacts and events because we cannot bear to think of them as anything other than authentically different, existing on some higher plane of human creativity and meaning than that located in the factories of mass production and consumption. But even when we strip away all residues of wishful thinking (often backed by powerful ideologies) we are still left with something very special about those products designated as 'cultural'. How, then, can the commodity status of so many of these phenomena be reconciled with their special character? Furthermore, the conditions of labour and the class positionality of the increasing number of workers engaged in cultural activities and production (more than 150,000 'artists' were registered in the New York metropolitan region in the early 1980s and that number may well have risen to more than 250,000 by now) is worthy of consideration. They form the creative core of what Daniel Bell calls 'the cultural mass' (defined as not the creators but the transmitters of culture in the media and elsewhere).1 The political stance of this creative core as well as of the cultural mass is not inconsequential. In the 1960s, recall, the art colleges were hot-beds of radical discussion. Their subsequent pacification and professionalization has seriously diminished agitational politics. Revitalizing such institutions as centres of political engagement and mobilizing the political and agitational powers of cultural producers is surely a worthwhile objective for the left even if it takes some special adjustments in socialist strategy and thinking to do so. A critical examination of the relations between culture, capital and socialist alternatives can here be helpful as a prelude to mobilizing what has always been a powerful voice in revolutionary politics.