Shrinking Commons edition:1 location:Scott Polar Research Institute, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, UK date:8-9 September 2014
Building upon recent ethnographic work with land chiefs in Kinshasa, this paper explores some of the mechanisms of urban expansion and the various processes of place-making underlying the opening of new land in and around the city of Kinshasa (DRCongo). As elsewhere across the continent, Kinshasa has become a major site for the realisation abnd implementation of neo-liberal urban expansion projects. Often conceived in the form of gated communities and sattelite cities, these building projects redraw the geographies of urban inclusion and exclusion in radical ways. And yet, they remain somehow very marginal to the urban dynamics of everyday life and to equally powerful forms of urban expansion and place-making that do find their starting point not so much in the logic of a global neo-liberal capitalism, but in processes connecting the city to the rural hinterland and its moral and political frameworks. I will analyse how, in order to access and open up new land in kinshasa's peripheries, Kinois have to pass through Humbu and Teke ancestral land chiefs who are not officially recognised by the city's admiistration and whose activities therefore reamin largely under the radars of the city and the state, but who form nonetheless the real motor of Kinshasa's urban growth, redefining in the process what the city is.
The commons, often reductively thought of as 'public goods', have long been central to material struggles and utopian imaginaries of collective ownership and wellbeing. so it is today, undergirded by a general anxiety that the natural, social and political commons are at risk from the encroachments of capitalist expansion, hyper-consumption, and corporist politics. The history and present fate of the commons are reduced to a tragedy: critics worry about the disappearance or actually contested nature of things once held in common, grasping for a new counter-narrative. Yet, what exactly is meant by the commons today, how they are formed and for whom, if in the undergrowth of old understandings and practices new forms of 'commoning' are arising, and what a new language with traction should look like, reamin largely unanswered questions.
This sympsosium addressed these questions by following developments across three historically symbolic 'passage points' of the commons: 1) the ownership, availability and condition of land and nature; 2) the technologies and infrastructures of collective provisioning; and 3) the structuring of publics and their rights