Participating is More Important than Winning: The Impact of Socio-Economic Change on Commoners’ Participation in Eighteenth and Nineteenth-Century Flanders

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"In literature on the use of common land, commoners are usually considered as a group. In this article the participation profile of commoners of a Flemish case-study is reconstructed in order to identify their individual motivation for using the common, in some cases becoming a manager of that common, and in some cases do no more than simply claim membership. Nominative linkage between the membership lists, book keeping and regulatory documents of the common on the one hand, and censuses and marriage acts on the other allow us to link the behaviour of the commoners to their the social-economic background. It becomes clear why some decision have been taken – e.g. to dissolve a nevertheless well-functioning cattle registration system – and how these affected the common the resource use of the common during the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. It explains how internal shifts in power balances amongst groups of active users and those who do not have the means or willingness to participate can jeopardize the internal cohesion of the commoners as a group."
participatory development, human behavior