Great to see the publication of Releasing the Commons: Rethinking the futures of the commons, edited by colleagues Ash Amin and Phil Howell. This book emerges from the Shrinking Commons symposium held in Cambridge in September 2014 and organised by the Geography Department. The book has a superb line-up and it is very sad that John Urry, participant in the symposium and author of the second chapter of the book, died before he could see the book in its final form.
I used my presentation at the symposium, and subsequent chapter in the edited collection entitled International Humanitarian Law and the Possibility of the Commons, to advance my thinking on the vexed relationship between ideas of the commons and the operation of international humanitarian law. It was an experimental piece of work in many ways and I want to use these ideas to develop a piece of empirical research that traces some of the varied (and, at times, contradictory) outcomes of the operation and institutionalisation of IHL.
Here is the original abstract for the chapter:
This chapter advances understandings of the critical geographies of law through an exploration of recent legal innovations establishing institutions trying individuals for breaches of international humanitarian law (IHL). The chapter explores whether the operation of IHL provides grounds for a revived notion of the commons; in doing so focusing on three modalities of common practice: rights, testimony and mobilisation. The invocation of IHL is suggestive of a planetary sense of rights conferred by our common species membership, coupled with novel coalitions that operate transnationally to agitate for legal redress. But the institutionalisation of IHL has also orientated attention to the role and significance of testimony, and in particular to the extent to which it is possible to bear witness to traumatic events and forge connections between violence in disparate parts of the planet. Finally, the operation of law, its materiality, performance and outcomes, has required new mobilisations, in terms of both expert interpretation of evidence and the enrolment of purportedly non-legal actors into juridical processes. These actions have blurred the distinction between law and non-law, where pressure is exerted through new transnational coalitions of knowledge production and innovative forms of civic action outside the legal arena.
Alex Jeffrey, May 2016