Knowledge commons

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1 Definition

Knowledge commons (Hess & Ostrom, 2007), commons and common good are umbrella terms. The concepts behind these terms are in the process of being (re)defined for deeper and wider understandings. The purpose of this page is to identify resources to contribute to this larger endeavour.

In the Aristotelian’s meaning for example, a common good is: “a good belonging to and attainable only by the community yet individually shared by its members” (Dupré, 1993, p. 687).

"Hess and Ostrom (2007) caution that research on knowledge commons does not take into account the breadth and depth of the literature on natural-resource commons. Knowledge commons are analyzed both from the perspective of enclosure and the perspective of openness/inclusiveness (i.e., democracy and human rights). In the former, threats take the form of property legislation that prevents open access to knowledge. In the latter, which draws on Benkler (2001), the focus is on digital interoperability, Open Science, and networks to the detriment of the importance of sharing and using shared knowledge to support sustainable democratic societies (Hess and Ostrom, 2007, p. 13)" (Class, 2022).

Following Ostrom's work, the knowledge commons research framework pursues systematic, empirical approach to governance of shared resources but its approach differs in substance. "Knowledge, information, and data governance pose opportunities and social dilemmas that aren’t always evident in the world of biophysical resources. Knowledge resources may not be Common Pool Resources. A “tragedy of the commons” may not be the key threat to productive development or distribution of knowledge. Ostrom’s “design principles” for managing a commons are neither natural starting points nor natural conclusions with respect to shared knowledge resources" (Workshop on Governing Knowledge Commons).

The aim of both calls for papers, mentioned in the next sections, is to widen understandings of knowledge commons and commons, especially in relationship to Open Education.

2 Call for papers

2.1 Panel on Knowledge Commons at IASC 2023

The XIX Biennal International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC) Conference on the topic of "The Commons we want: between historical legacies and future collective actions" hosts a pannel on What about revitalising African knowledge commons for/through education? The summary is accessible below and papers can be submitted until December 12, 2022. Please submit from the IASC Conference Panels and select Topic 6, scroll until topic 6.9.

In this panel, we suggest to discuss knowledge commons beyond the 2030 agenda and beyond theories of development, within the framework of Open Science (UNESCO, 2021).

Leveraging epistemologies from the South, we explore how to move away from post-positivist approaches created by the Global North, first by recognising absences, and next by encouraging emergences of different knowledge systems (Santos, 2016).

How can overall life philosophies such as Maat or Ubu-ntu contribute to create alternative ways to education? How can educating in community languages empower learners towards a holistic cultural identity? How can leadership be developed to train individuals to become bridges, proficient of one local culture / language of the Global South and one of the North?

Taking advantage of the momentum and current awareness with regards to knowledge commons in Africa, i.e. topics that concern the Global South and are discussed in and for the Global South in journals hosted for instance on African Journals Online (AJOL), education is discussed in a much deeper sense than schooling, in temporalities that far exceed international agendas.

Finally, rather than addressing knowledge and natural commons as two different entities in the modern perspective (Latour, 2006), we consider them one and the same commons, in interaction, and nurturing one another. This with respect also to traditional ways of educating through initiation which take place in forests.


Latour, B. (2006). Nous n'avons jamais été modernes: Essai d'anthropologie symétrique. Paris: La Découverte.

Santos, B. d. S. (2016). Epistémologies du Sud : mouvements citoyens et polémique sur la science. Paris: Desclée de Brouwer.

UNESCO. (2021). Recommendation on Open Science.

2.2 Education Ouverte et Libre - Open Education - Volume 2

3 External websites and References