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'''* Article: Commons towards New Participatory Institutions. The Neapolitan
Experience. Maria Francesca De Tullio'''
URL = http://www.exasilofilangieri.it/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/2018-De-Tullio-in-Gielen-Dockx-Commonism.pdf
First introductory article from the book: Commonism. A New Aesthetics of the Real. By Nico Dockx & Pascal Gielen (eds.)
==Introduction: Property and Democratic Participation==
"This work is a narration of the Neapolitan experience of commons, aimed at finding in that movement new possible patterns of participatory democracy (Allegretti 2010, p. 7; Chevallier 1999, p. 410).
Commons and participatory democracy follow, in principle, different logics. Nevertheless, they are getting more and more interlaced with each other due to two converging phenomena.
The first one is the politicization of commons. Commons are
becoming—in many parts of Europe—a way to rethink political
subjectivation by imagining and practicing new forms of relation
and institutional organization beyond the neoliberal imprint. In
other words, political movements are generating ‘emerging common goods’ (Micciarelli 2014, pp. 67–69), i.e. commons defined
not only by their nature and function, but also by their governing,
shared between public sector and people. The second phenomenon comes from the opposite direction: the traditional institutions
are actively seeking more responsive, accountable, and participatory forms of democracy, to face the distrust towards representatives and electoral mechanisms.
Therefore, there is an opportunity for commons to fill a
void of political legitimacy of the institutions. A void which, presently, is also a battleground, for at least two reasons. The first one
is that representatives are attempting to put in place weak procedures of participation, with the intention of gaining trust and consent from the citizens without giving away too much power. The second and perhaps more important one is that the weakening of
elected organisms also leaves room to deregulation, privatization
and, thus, inequalities.
Then, the main issue of this study is to use the Neapolitan
case, and its challenges, to
unemployment and precarious working conditions, as well as
against national cultural policies they deemed inefficient and
unequal (Gielen 2015, pp. 65–67). In fact, they attacked a symbol
of these policies by grabbing a space that, at that time, had been
given in concession to a Foundation in charge of organizing the
UNESCO’s Universal Forum of Cultures. The building was considered emblematic, because this kermesse, like many big events,
was failing to stimulate all of the artistic texture of the territory.
On the contrary, it produced a waste of money and concentration
of funding in few hands.
However, soon the entire city was involved in the process
of l’Asilo: cultural workers above all, but also other inhabitants
and activists, who were experimenting with new ways to engage
in politics. In a series of animated assemblies, they decided not to
be ‘occupants’, but commoners. So, they transformed the public
spaces in shared and freely accessible means of production, with
lower costs and horizontal management, following collaborative
rather than competitive logics. Consequently, a creative effort was
made to pour that vision into a juridical construction. The aim
was not to seek the protection of the law, but to ‘hack’ legality, i.e.
to use the disruptive energy of the process to carve the rules and
Eventually, they identified this new juridical instrument
as ‘urban civic uses’, through an extensive interpretation of the
‘civic use’, a tool that—since ancient times—grants to a certain
community collective rights over lands and pastures. But they
also brought innovation to this juridical instrument, because
they conceived the ‘community’ not in the traditional ‘communitarian’ meaning, but in an inclusive, heterogeneous, and
Thus they wrote collectively, in public and open assemblies, a Declaration of Urban Civic and Collective Use (hereinafter Declaration), formally recognized later, in 2015, by two
Resolutions of the Giunta Comunale (City Government) (Delibere
400/2012, 893/2015). This Declaration ‘rules the use of the spaces
of l’Asilo and of the means of production that it contains, ensuring usability, inclusiveness, fairness, accessibility and self-government’ (cf. Ostrom 1990, pp. 93–94).
The Administration, on its
part, by approving the Declaration recognized not only a mere
access entitlement, but also ‘the rights to the direct administration of the building itself’. The objective of the Giunta Comunale
(City Government) was not to express tolerance towards the occupation. Rather, it was accepting the challenge of transforming
juridical science and practices.
Hence, the public domain is not used in an exclusive fashion, nor entrusted to a particular private subject, but opened up to
the entire community. Indeed, the administration of the spaces,
in consistence with their nature of common goods, is undertaken
by Governing and Management Assemblies that are open to
everyone (not only citizens and adults) and decide by consensus
(Declaration, Art. 3). Moreover,
the overriding principle in the programming of activities
is the non-exclusive use of any part of the property, as
turn-taking and the guarantee of use, access and usability
of the space by the parties who benefit is the guiding principle of the whole urban civic use system. (Declaration, Art. 14).
In practice, the building was transformed in an ‘interdependent’
centre of artistic production, which has been crossed—in five
years—by over 2,400 productive subjects, 7,800 public initiatives,
and 260,000 beneficiaries. Anyone who wishes to employ the
space to work, rehearse, or organize civil, political, and cultural
initiatives only needs to propose the activity to the Management
Assemblies. These do not exercise an artistic direction, but, as to
the contents, only refuse fascist, sexist, and racist proposals. Yet,
as requests grow in number, and spaces and energies remain limited, the community constantly engages in reasoning, to elaborate
choosing criteria consistent with the destination of the building.
With this participatory establishment the Administration
does not abandon its responsibilities.
Indeed, by recognizing the
Declaration, the Giunta Comunale (City Government) binds
itself to very precise commitments:
- The City Administration … provides, within the limits of
the available resources, the management expenditures and
what is necessary to ensure adequate accessibility to the
property. It also provides what is necessary to ensure a safe
environment for carrying out the activities and the protection of the property by preventing damages by vandalism. (Art. 20)
Not last, ‘City Administration undertakes to intervene in any case
ensuring access to and use of the spaces according to the scheduled activities’ (Ibid.). These public expenses are justified through
the recognition of the ‘civic redditivity’ of the experience, i.e. the
ability of the commons to generate a social non-monetary value
which is worth the expense of maintaining the building. That way,
a piece of real estate became, through collective will, an ‘emerging
common good’, getting to represent not only a platform of mutualism for workers in the field of arts, culture, and performance, but
also an incubator for democratic participation.
Afterwards, the same path has been followed in favour of
seven more spaces, which have been declared common goods in
a new Resolution (Delibere 446/2016, 458/2017). Namely, these
spaces are Villa Medusa and ex Lido Pola, in the suburban area
of Bagnoli, together with ex Schipa, ex Opg (Psychiatric Criminal
Hospital), Giardino Liberato (Freed Garden), Ex-conservatory
of Santa Fede, and former juvenile prison Filangieri, now called
Scugnizzo Liberato, in the area of the historical city centre. All of
them have their own characteristics and vocation, but they share
the same engagement to remain self-governed and accessible to
==From the Conclusion==
"In synthesis, the Neapolitan experimentation with commons has
contaminated the Administration with new languages and procedures, characterized by the complete accessibility of self-government organisms, the selective public provision of spaces and funding to weak grassroots movements, and a constant questioning of property and exclusive use.
A further question, then, from both a legal and political
point of view, is to imagine how these tools can be useful in other
realities and territories, where other commons are emerging. Here,
the hardest challenges, besides the political ones, derive from the
crisis of public debt, which increases the pressure towards privatization and clearance sale of public goods."