I am in Japan for the 14th global conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons. It is being held at Kitafuji, the northern slopes of Mount Fuji, which includes extensive commons and has recently been designated as a World Heritage Site.
The conference brings together people from all over the globe who are working on commons. These are defined in the widest sense, ie shared resource, which includes land, water, air and digital. Our legally defined commons of England and Wales have a place, as one small part of a much larger picture.
At this year’s conference we are remembering with affection the academic leader in this field, Elinor Ostrom, who died last year. An award has been established in her memory and I am thrilled that the Open Spaces Society is one of the winners.
The IASC has individual and institutional membership, the Open Spaces Society being institutional. The organisation is largely academic, as is the conference, but there are practitioners here, with a large contingent from India’s Foundation for Ecological Security, for instance.
I believe the IASC misses a big opportunity by not doing more to embrace practitioners and campaigners and those involved in collective action. I said so at the members’ meeting on Tuesday evening and I found that many others share my view. Certainly Lin Ostrom recognised the importance of linking academia with action. So I have started a move to broaden IASC and thereby widen its appeal and reach.
Water grab in semi-arid Kenya
For instance, this morning, I had breakfast with Marcel Rutten from the African Studies Centre in the Netherlands, who told me of how commercial flower-growers in Kenya are taking communal water and making large sums of money. It seemed to me that there is a campaign to be run here (and I think there is one developing). There is a vast amount of research being undertaken on commons which should be underpinning action to achieve change.
This conference is different from the previous 13. The organisers are the Onshirin Commoners’ Assembly, the Kitafuji commoners from the northern slopes of Mount Fuji. These are ancient commons, the iriai, which are used today for silviculture and harvesting vegetables and as community gardens. Part of the land is used by the national government as a training ground for the Japan Ground Self-Defence Force (just like Dartmoor!). Part belongs to the national government which pays fees to the commoners for use of the common access-rights which they still hold. Some of the conference halls are actually on the common.
Because the conference is on a common, and based in Fujiyoshida, a town which has no large university, the conference is divided between four venues and delegates are scattered in hotels in and around the town. This makes for difficulties but it is exciting and appropriate to be meeting on a common.
The town and venues are bedecked with conference flags, and the helpers all wear blue or orange jackets.
The Kitafuji commons are being appreciated in a global context.