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Conceptualising the Commons: Power and Politics in a Globalising Economy

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Vira, Bhaskar
Conference: The Commons in an Age of Globalisation, the Ninth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Conf. Date: June 17-21, 2002
Date: 2002
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/1241
Sector: Social Organization
Region: Middle East & South Asia
Subject(s): IASC
common pool resources
policy analysis
resource management
governance and politics
Abstract: "The literature on the commons in India has devoted considerable attention to documenting the flows of benefits from such resources. Micro studies as well as a large recent macro survey suggest that these flows form a significant part of local peoples resource use patterns, as well as contributing to household income and providing off-season employment opportunities, and spreading risk associated with the use of private resources. "This long-standing interest in the commons has focused primarily on their role in mitigating failures of other resource provisioning systems, as a safety net for those who may not have access to other products and services. However, people increasingly view the commons as a potential source for enhanced livelihood opportunities. In parallel, senior planners in India have argued for a shift in priorities from funding safety net programmes to asset creation. If the mindset of policy makers is beginning to move from the prevention of acute destitution (poverty alleviation) to the promotion of economic and social opportunity (sustainable livelihoods), one needs to consider whether the role of the commons also needs to be reconceptualised. "This paper suggests that dynamic internal and external processes are impacting on the context within which the commons are used and conceptualised in India. While the large rural sector continues to depend on such resources as a safety net, there are also new opportunities emerging due to the development of markets for products and services derived from sustainable commons management (carbon sequestration being just one such example). The paper argues that conflict over the management of such resources is likely to intensify, and that governance issues are likely to become increasingly complex. Focusing on single-use regimes in spatially-limited areas may no longer be viable, and the new context for resource use and management is likely to be one in which a multiplicity of stakeholders are forced to work together for the shared management of resources across a range of spatial scales. It is important to recognise that these different stakeholders occupy very different positions in local and national political structures. As the relative importance of different common pool resource functions changes, there is likely to be a shift in the locus of control over resources. Such changes may have significant political implications, as existing resource users seek to defend their claims against those of other, perhaps newer, claimants. Policy responses to changes in common pool resource-related resource flows cannot ignore the incompatibility of some of these competing uses, and must accept that complex political negotiation and accommodation strategies may be needed in order to reconcile future claims over these resources. By explicitly highlighting these alternative trajectories and their implications for common pool resources, the paper hopes to stimulate debate about future scenarios in this sector in the Indian context."

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