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HomeSpaces and societies

Spaces and societies

Espaces et sociétés

Common goods and territories

Biens communs et territoires

Bienes comunes y territorios

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Published on Tuesday, September 27, 2016


We observe today an outbreak of initiatives based on the concept of “common goods” in the context of planning, urbanism and territorial development. The current call for papers aims at gathering contributions from various disciplines and to shed light on this (re)emerging concept. A second aim is to address how the use of this concept renews (or not) the “territorial fabric” in Europe and in the world.



There is a marked increase today in initiatives based on the concept of ‘common goods’ in the context of urban planning and of territorial development (Urbanisme, 2014). Taking account first of all of the ‘common good’ (in the singular) of the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, of the ‘common goods’ (in the plural) of public economy, then of the ‘common pool resources’ of institutionalist economy stemming from the work of Nobel prize winner Elinor Ostrom, this concept today attracts renewed interest. These ‘common goods’, objects of shared usage (exclusion is indeed difficult to imagine) where all or part is managed by a collective or a community of users considered or self-appointed as legitimate, galvanise not only the scientific community, as witness recent works on the subject (Dardot & Laval, 2014), as well as dedicated scientific events, but also through the participation of local development actors involved in numerous initiatives, seminars, conferences and study days.

The notion is used to (re)formulate or (re)interpret a certain number of issues relating to different territorial types, be they characterised as urban, peri-urban or rural and of varying scales. Examples are energy transition with its forms of decentralised management, participative arrangements of public spaces, the development of a circular economy or in the rediscovery of the virtues of housing cooperatives as a community response to the deficits of the market whether public or private. One can also cite the deployment of the creative commons, the social economy and the collaborative economy which both produce and make intensive use of common goods (urban facilities, rural surveys etc.) and which pose questions concerning how territories manage mobility, welcome, tourism etc.

More particularly, the concept of common goods, drawing upon the Anglo-Saxon conception of property in terms of a ‘bundle of rights’, stimulates a salutary re-examination in depth of privative property inherited from the French Revolution and written into the civil Napoleonic codes of continental Europe. The re-assessment of this relatively rigid definition of privative property is empirically supported by the recognition of the difficulty under the established system of regulating the uses of numerous territorial or environmental resources such as the countryside, biodiversity, certain types of public spaces, wind, etc., or such as the new uses (e.g. biotechnological) of genetic resources.

At the same time, the observation of empirical forms of community management of these goods shows that numbers of them in effect correspond not to the constitution of ‘common goods’ but rather to ‘club goods’, either as a selective, even exclusive, collective appropriation or in the best of cases in ‘open club’ situations, which then of course clearly raises problems of equity as much concerning access to resources as to the sharing of the economic or symbolic advantages which derive from them (Nahrath, 2015).

This is why the notion of common goods needs to be interrogated, even criticised and brought into perspective now when it is often invoked in territorial planning and development to symbolise an alternative to the dominant regulatory system, opening upon a better mode of development (more sustainable, more participative etc.), In what way does this concept renew approaches in terms of territorial planning and development? What does its use tell us about our society, about the evolution of approaches to the management of common resources and of territories? What are its implications in terms of governance, of inequalities, or yet in other domains?

The aim of this brief is therefore to throw light upon this (re-)emerging concept by contributing to further reflection on the fabric of territories and on drawing attention to what is at stake in terms of production, movement, uses, management, motivation of actors etc. What is required is an up-to-date survey of the situation and of the debates relating to the uses of the concept of ‘common goods’ making use of a variety of disciplinary approaches, of perspectives form different parts of the world and of theoretical, conceptual and empirical researches bearing upon these ‘new’ common goods of planning, urbanism and of the actual development of territories.

What are these ‘new common goods’ and/or these new forms of territorial management/production? What are these actual goods? What are their characteristics? How are they conceptualised? Analysed? And in what way does the notion of these common goods sanction the treatment of the new stakes – or of revisiting old stakes – as they concern territorial development? In what way do they contribute to renewing relevant models, methods and approaches?

  • Do these common goods have a preferred scale of operation? Does their collective management imply that they are bound into a local level? Can one speak of, and in what conditions, of regional, national, supra-national or planetary common goods and what are the implications of this in terms of territorial development and planning?
  • How are they managed? By whom? What modes of territorial governance, of formal and informal regulation are implicated (definition of property rights, of territorial projects and of collectives of relevant actors, etc)? What institutional and geographical levels are involved? In what way are actual organisational patterns challenged?  Are certain actors or social groups privileged to the detriment of others?
  • What relations exist between material (relating to land) and immaterial (cognitive) common goods in urban projects and/or in the processes of the territorial management of environmental resources? What is the role of public authorities and/or community organisations? How might these ‘new common goods’ figure in public policies?
  • In what way does the taking into account of common goods renew models of territorial development ?

Also, there could be a place for a renewed look at the more ‘classical’ common goods (pastures, fisheries, irrigation systems, water, forests, etc).

Bibliographical References

Coriat, B. 2015. Le retour des communs : la crise de l’idéologie propriétaire, Paris, Éditions Les Liens qui libèrent.

Dardot, P. et Laval, C. 2015. Commun : essai sur la révolution au xxie siècle, Paris, La Découverte.

Nahrath, S. 2015. « Bien commun » dans D. Bourg et A. Papaux (sous la dir. de), Dictionnaire de la pensée écologique, Paris, Presses universitaires de France.

Urbanisme 2014. À la recherche du bien commun territorial, no 52 HS.


  • Leïla Kebir,
  • Stéphane Nahrath
  • Frédéric Wallet


  • 15 April 2017: deadline for submitting articles

  • 1st June 2017 : information for authors

Submission guidelines

Adress for correspondence : Exclusively electronically by email to the following address:

Authors with questions concerning the relevance of their proposal can contact the coordinators


  • The review does not want proposals for articles but the articles directly,
  • Articles should not exceed 42 000 characters (including spaces) including: text, notes, references, appendices, but excluding abstracts.
  • Advice to authors appear in each issue.
  • The standards of presentation and advice to authors are available on the website of the journal:
  • The review notes that at any time authors may submit articles 'hors dossier', outside of the themes of the issues on the topics of relationship between spaces, territories and populations broadly understood and meeting publication standards; if accepted, these articles are published quickly.


  • Saturday, April 15, 2017


  • bien commun, territoire, aménagement, urbanisme, développement territorial


  • Anne de Reyniès
    courriel : espacesetsocietes [at] msh-paris [dot] fr

Reference Urls

Information source

  • Anne de Reyniès
    courriel : espacesetsocietes [at] msh-paris [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

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« Spaces and societies », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Tuesday, September 27, 2016,

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