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The Travesty of a Common: The Management and Use of a Common in Changing Flanders (18th-19th Century)

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: De Moor, Tine
Conference: Workshop on the Workshop 3
Location: Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN
Conf. Date: June 2-6
Date: 2004
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/6487
Sector: Agriculture
Region: Europe
Subject(s): common pool resources--history
land tenure and use--history
Abstract: "The problems accompanying-–but not necessarily caused by--the common use of goods have been the object of social and scientific debates since Antiquity. Commons have played a central role in the search for the optimal way in dealing with such problems. This is not surprising: until the middle of the nineteenth century the common use–mainly for agriculture- and management of land was a current practice in Europe. Common land was in most Western European countries eliminated during the 19th century 'liberalisation wave' that swept through Europe. Until then, commons had provided an important contribution to the mixed agriculture system as a whole: the cattle on the common provided fertilisation essential for the arable fields, the fuel (peat, cuttings of wood), building materials, heath and so on. With the increased external inputs (fertilisation, seeds) and the increasing specialisation and commercialisation of agriculture the necessity of the commons gradually disappeared. Notwithstanding the assumed importance of commons in history, the number of historical studies on the subject is rather limited, except for the UK-–where the privatisation (enclosures) of the commons is supposed to have had far-reaching social consequences for the users. In their study, historians have mainly focused on two aspects: the disappearance of the commons and the consequences of this for the commoners' social welfare, whereby the commoners were almost always studied as groups, not as individuals with different strategies towards the use of the commons. Researchers from the non-historical social sciences have however concentrated primarily on the effects of individual behaviour on the functioning of the common as a system of resource management and on the optimisation of management and use of common pool resources, a theme that historians have only recently discovered."

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