Normal service is about to resume

January 30, 2016 § Leave a comment

Practical householding and other, creative demands, have distracted my attention from psyCommons for a while.

Happily this hasn’t been so for everyone.

Thomas Allan, who has been developing the psyCommons notion with enthusiasm posts  these extracts from a recent conversation.

‘Reaching Sustainable Agreements in Negotiations on Commons’


Brigitte Kratzwald (BK), Thomas Allan (TA), Jed Walls (JW) and Nora Masch (NM) discuss the psyCommons at Leuphana University Online Course “The Psychology of Negotiations –”.

TA: With a background working with people with intellectual disabilities, I’m concerned about the ability of government bureaucracies, markets or some combination of the two to adequately respond to and meet individual and community need. I’m also concerned with issues of social marginality in negotiations. How can we support people who have few resources and little control over their lives to engage? How can we prevent people being excluded from both the processes and outcomes of negotiations? My experience is that negotiations still overwhelmingly happen as a top-down approach which professionals initiate and retain primary control over the processes of planning and decision making. Community members are subsequently invited to join a consultation which is typically a less democratic process as decisions have often already been made by ‘experts’. UK Social Care Researcher Dr Sarah Carr explains:

“Research concerning the involvement of people with learning difficulties indicates that effective interaction within a consultation can only happen when there is an attempt to redress the power balance between managers and policy makers and people with learning difficulties. It is also emphasised that professionals still exercise considerable power over disabled people’s lives. Each profession assumes a language, a set of values and practices that privileges the practitioner. Hitherto, a clear division between the expert provider and lay user has reinforced their enhanced status.”

Secondly, the approach taken on The Psychology of Negotiations is that negotiations on commons happen locally at the level of social networks, groups, small organizations and so on. But marginalization can occur at individual, community, professional and structural levels as well. Interpersonal relationships are ‘nested’ within broader social structures and influenced by issues around ownership and control of land and organizations, public policy, welfare and legal structures, and inequality of income and other resources. This in turn can affect cognition, perceptions, behaviours and psychological processes at the individual level, as explained in influential books such as ‘The Spirit Level’. So I’m also conscious that negotiations are human experiences with human connections and emotion as well as instrumental, material benefits and opportunities.

So is it possible to integrate the idea of the psyCommons (psychological commons) into The Psychology of Negotiations? The psyCommons is explained by Denis Postle on the P2P Foundation as follows: The basis of the proposition of a ‘psychological commons’ is that everyone develops a store of knowledge about all of the key elements that could be called ‘psychological’ – their own and others motivations, recognition of patterned behaviours, how they and others make decisions, and so on. This flux of myriad understandings, insights and expectations forms a resource, a commons – a psychological commons that we are free to tap into and add to. And on occasion to challenge – that’s to say, as with any commons, there are issues of governance.

BK: As far as I understand it psyCommons reminds me of social critic Ivan Illich’s “Entmündigung durch Experten”. I’m not quite sure whether it is “The Age of Disabling Professions” in English, but I think so.

But perhaps we should not have a nostalgic look to the past. In the past many people didn’t have access to psychological support; some didn’t understand their own needs nor learn to express them and to communicate with each other in an adequate way. Many people were not even considered to have their ‘own’ needs, but had to submit to the needs of others and their individuality was broken systematically. Women, children, older people and sick people were mistreated and suppressed. So for some these new psychological professions brought real improvement.

But it’s true that in the last 50 years or so there was a huge emphasis on psychological issues in our societies. A process Michel Foucault called “biopolitics”: how politics aims on the very subjectivity of individuals trying to fit them into the system’s logic. At the same time individuals have become ever more isolated from each other.

The consequences are outlined very well by Denis Postle. Different modes of behaviour or dispositions are turned into “diseases” that require treatment; each problem has its own professional expert and solving problems without experts becomes suspicious. People become dependent on experts and lose the ability to solve problems themselves.

But there is a positive aspect too. In days gone by a child may have been considered to be lazy or not very clever if they couldn’t follow the curriculum at school. Today there are a lot of special programs [and practitioners] to support and encourage children with different disabilities that were not even known some 20 years ago. Or, for example, if you tell your boss you are tired and you need a day off, they may say if you can’t meet the required performance you should look for another job. But if a medical professional states that you suffer from burnout or have a certain condition in need of special support you’ll find understanding and sympathy everywhere – oh, take any time you need to recover!

Also, I think in a time where things change so rapidly and traditional relations and experiences are not working for you, counselling and coaching might be very helpful. The most important thing, I suppose, is whether the ‘experts’ prescribe what is best for you or they help you to find out yourself what is best for you.

I’m not sure how to integrate the topic of the psyCommons into the psychology of negotiations, but I’m curious to find out. Probably in negotiations with ‘shared power’ which value ‘ordinary wisdom’ negotiations are more likely to be successful; but, on the other hand, we know that facilitators can be very helpful in commons negotiations. If the psyCommons can help people recognize their needs, resources and how to match them, a psyCommons could be an additional outcome of a commons negotiation?

NM: Denis Postle broadens the perspective of commons to psychological resources as well. The idea of common sense knowledge and knowledge we gather in everyday interaction with others as commons is interesting. Understanding the world around us is a soft skill crucial for personal and professional development. Postle gives this example:

“A mother and grandmother are walking home with young grandson who is riding his bike. At a pedestrian crossing he appears to be ignoring a bus that is approaching. His mother shouts at him very loudly. He is very upset by this – An hour later the grandson is still very tearful because his mother had been so angry and had shouted at him. His grandmother says – listen, your mother wasn’t angry, she was afraid, she thought you were in danger. Hearing this, the grandson’s distress evaporates.”

I recall that Eric Berne [creator of Transactional Analysis] used a similar example for the common sense of knowledge. He argued that young children are like aliens. They are not “stupid”; they just don’t know the rules yet. If we experience an irritating or frightening situation we can take a step back and view what happened from a distance. Children often cannot distance themselves from their direct (emotional) experience. This leads to problems with understanding and community, because in many situations there is no grandmother to translate the child’s experience. He might get the idea that if he is happy and plays and runs his mother doesn’t like him the way he is. This misunderstanding can lead to greater problems in the child’s behaviour if he understands different situations this way.

For me this creates new questions. Can this knowledge be negotiated? How can one negotiate in their community to lay a good basis for learning and developing?

TA: Brigitte, I really like the link to Foucault and how you say ‘politics aims on the very subjectivity of individuals trying to fit them into the system’s logic’. I tend to see psyCommons as important to both process and outcome of negotiations. The description of the psyCommons by David Bollier is useful here: “..the realm of the informal, the customary and the local – the social spaces in our lives that are largely exempt from bureaucratic or legal control, the spaces where people can negotiate their own shared understandings of intersubjective reality..”. The intersubjective experience is empathic experience; seeing things from another person’s perspective, which is very important in, say, conflict resolution. Conflict resolution is an important issue in negotiations and emotions play a central role in this. For example, negative emotions may cause conflict to escalate and break down, while positive emotions can facilitate the reaching of an agreement. Negotiating these social spaces is an important aspect of negotiations on commons.

Norah, I see this knowledge as socially constructed: knowledge created through social interaction in everyday contexts. Can knowledge be negotiated in the way that rules are put in place by parents for their children? For example, thoughts, feelings, attitudes and behavioural patterns based on lessons learnt from parents and other ‘parental’ or authoritarian sources. Many might accept negotiating knowledge based on empathic concern for learning and safety, but rule making can also have a negative effect where rules are insisted upon restricting the natural inquisitiveness of the child to grow and flourish, and where adults don’t question the rationale or ethical basis of this knowledge. This can transmit prejudicial views to children regarding the ‘usefulness’ and value to society of people with disability or other disadvantages. I think Transactional Analysis has useful techniques to uncover and understand these dynamics.

NM: A very important part of this question is personal growth and change, and psyCommons are very important for that.

What about the idea of psyCommons? What do others think about the concept and can you think of examples or relevant aspects to this concept?

JW: PsyCommons seems to detail the psychological landscape of cultures in a given environment. If I’m correct in this (and the rest of my comment hinges on that idea being correct) then it is a comment on the makeup of common sense, social representation, and media psychology as it affects cognition. Lots of good authors to explore in that world: Moscovici, Kurt Lewin, Lippman, for starters.

TA: Yes, those are useful connections. Negotiations are not limited to material resources but also cultural meanings. As I understand it, the psyCommons challenges dominant cultural narratives and media representations of mental distress (the ‘dangerous mental patient’) and the stereotyping and stigmatization that comes with this.


Meeting and Greeting… the Psychosocial Field

June 10, 2015 § Leave a comment

First published in Therapy Futures – Obstacles and Opportunities


The core elements of the psyCommons proposal are rapport, the quality of felt contact with others, chat, and learning from experience. This inevitably tentative handle on the human condition accounts reasonably well for our capacity to survive, recover and even flourish as a persons. And yet…

And yet… rapport can dry up, chat can oppress, and experience can teach us to hide.

What we bring to the world of work and living together can be facing the same way as our intentions but sometimes we face west when we intend to move east. And the best of intentions can be in collision with the unforgiving intransigence of time, capital and other people.

Other people. People also with intentions and beliefs, and likes and dislikes. When we sit in a room with a group of other people seeking to sharpen the focus on a task, perhaps a commoning task, what helps and what hinders agreement? Or if it is more relevant, creative destruction?

There is no single or simple answer. Complexity unfolds in both familiar and unexpected ways, can we shake out a few ingredients that go into the group mix? This is what the two images below propose. They present two takes on a psychosocial field.

After we meet and greet, when an event begins, whether it is commoning or a papal enclave or a G7 summit, as we come to order, an instance of the psychosocial field flows out of the ingredients we each bring with us. Each person at the meeting brings with them some version of the basic ingredients. After we turn up the heat in the groupwork and bake ourselves afresh, does the meeting have the aroma of freshly baked bread? If not, why not?

Let your intuition loose on the two versions of the psychosocial field below and see what you find.



The Commons – a new European concept? Inaugural meeting of the European Parliament Common Goods Intergroup.

May 31, 2015 § 2 Comments


As we gathered for it, this European Parliament Common Goods Intergroup meeting, promised to be intriguing… was the Parliament about to embrace the commons as a template for a more participatory politics?

It was indeed a political meeting, with the banners of the four parties who had come together in support of it prominent behind the podium, a coalition that, as Sophie Bloemen details in her excellent account of the intergroup’s formation, had required the mutation (dilution?) in its title, of ‘commons’ into ‘common goods’.

Such concerns were quickly overshadowed by the mix of culture shock, optimism, contradiction and sheer linguistic struggle that Europe-wide mutuality turned out to entail. But then this is 28 nation politics and I was new to it.

Lets start with the downside and get that out of the way.ParlPanoDSC07824CC4kpxEuropean Parliament Building Brussels

Shock and awe at the huge scale of the Brussels European Parliament building and the hushed modernity of its vast interior – the Charlie Hebdo effect piled onto the Bin Laden effect meant the whole place seemed imprisoned in that other aspect of modernity, security. There were also the twin Britshocks of realising during the meeting that what I was hearing were the voices of southern Europe, Italy, Spain, Portugal and France, and that of the 50-60 participants, I was apparently the only Brit. Coupled with this was the reminder that however good the four-language interpretation was, it put a huge burden on attention, and being able to grasp what was being said – Italian man speaking in the room – English woman interpreter in the ears.

The meeting started half an hour late, which despite effective facilitation put all the speakers under pressure. And speakers there were in plenty, arrayed in one-to-many conference style. There were repeated calls for ‘the need for debate’ but debate was overwhelmingly subordinate to a series of charismatic and often vociferous presentations mostly from the podium, peppered with multiple exhortations that the commons and common goods ‘were a good idea’, ‘we must…’ ‘we need…’ ‘we have to…’ etc., etc. Lot’s of talk about commons not much apparently from commons. When I spoke to ask the other delegates ‘who we were’ and how many had direct experience of commoning, around a third of the audience put up their hands, an indicator perhaps that less preaching to the converted would have been appropriate.

This was an inaugural meeting, so uncertainty and clumsiness can be excused, however on balance the presentations had a lot to say about common goods resources, i.e. a city’s water supply and much less about commoning, often a fragile flower growing out of peer-to-peer governance, commitment and emotional competence. The meeting certainly seemed in no doubt that a wider extension of the common goods theme might be one way to shape a new and very necessary politics. As Marisa Matias the impressive Portuguese MEP who had convened the meeting said at the end of her introduction, ‘the Left is lost’.

Was this a meeting then, as it perhaps seemed, where the old left was trying to befriend a new and promising flavour of the political month? There was no coffee break and apart from casual chat before the meeting, no interaction between the assembled delegates –the old paradigm of a representative polity?

And yet… in her introductory remarks Marisa Matias outlined two agenda items, ‘how to think outside the logic of the state’ and ‘how to handle the management of the commons’, both radical contradictions of neoliberal preferences. Perhaps this Common Goods Intergroup event was a way of introducing to an old politics, news of political innovation that was proving unexpectedly and improbably successful.

Only days before, Barcelona and possibly Madrid had elected officials with a ‘commons’ agenda; and… Anne le Strat outlined the successful Eau de Paris return of the Paris water supply to municipal ownership (paralleled by at least one other commune I know of in the Ardeche); There were several references to commons rights progress in Spain, and in Italy a supreme court decision had opened constitutional protocols to commons forms of organisation, along with the adoption of ‘beni comuni’ as a legal concept. Alongside this, as Benjamin Coriat outlined, in Barcelona the recovery of the commons appeared to be afoot.

A delegate from Transform made a reminder that there was a continuing need for recovery of the many public goods had been given to exponents of capital, she also argued for the establishment of a federation of commons. Paoli Napoli from CENJ, a French judicial research centre argued convincingly in favour of questioning the validity of state monopolies as a way of discovering commons. Ricardo la Fuente a Portuguese Free Culture activist drew attention to the scale of the capture of the internet commons by Facebook and Google, US dominated vertical monopolies that threaten the integrity and freedoms of the internet. He argued that safe-guarding access to the public sphere of the internet was a vital aspect of the commons agenda.

Michel Bauwens, a long-time peer to peer exponent, spoke about the digital commons, a driver of the unprecedented social change that underlies the commons movement. Bauwens outlined three digital commons institutions, one: the huge numbers of people who are contributors to the building of open public goods such as Linux, Arduino and Wikipedia etc (not to mention the countless millions of blogs like this!); secondly: the digital enterprises that feature peer-to-peer governance and transparency, he gave as examples: Loomio, Inspiral etc.; and third: for-benefit foundations such as the P2P Foundation and many others.

Bauwens warned that digital innovation presently tends to be compromised, since to pick up the resources to expand and develop an innovation, means becoming a ‘start-up’ with the likelihood of capture by venture capital. Devising alternative ways of financing commons innovation, he seemed to be saying, will be a vital part of an emerging commons economy. Bauwens left early to talk to the mayor of Ghent about another current proposal – Assemblies of the Commons – he also mentioned generating Chambers of the Commons, mirroring, at least in the UK, the ubiquitous ‘chambers of commerce’ and lastly the need, as he put it, to develop an ‘operating system’ for the commons. All welcome news.

In conclusion: Encouraging evidence from across southern Europe that there were a variety of instances of participatory politics inspired by, or already implementing commons/common goods. Great resources: the whole meeting was streamed live and by the following morning a video of it had been posted by the EFDD group with English interpretation.

And… the meeting had a classroom format – people sitting in rows facing expert speakers. As a groupwork facilitator I long ago learned that such a format inhibits or prevents the kind of face to face (and peer to peer) cooperation and communal knowing that commoning requires. This is not a minor matter, conversations are shaped by context. If this is the only Parliamentary format for commons/common goods discussion/negotiation/interpretation, I’d be concerned that this infrastructure could inadvertently exclude the intended benefits.

And yet… perhaps too much should not be expected from a body such as the Parliament which is devoted to scrutiny and correctivity, not usually a recipe for innovation. The European Parliament is an extant political forum, it mends and bends the proposals of European institutions. Diemut Theato, an MEP I happen to have met, some years ago demonstrated this when, due to her leadership and financial perspicacity, the entire European Commission had to resign. The Parliament’s potential ability to bounce back European legislation that ignores, compromises or damages the common good is very welcome. With regard to the common good, every little helps!

Video of the meeting:
Common Goods Intergroup members: the Greens, the left group GUE, the Social Democrat party (S&D) and the EFDD (joint president Nigel Farage) and which now includes Beppe Grillo with his Cinque Stelle party.

The Common Goods Intergroup and this meeting was facilitated by Elisabetta Cangelosi and Pablo Sanchez Centellas

psyCommons videos

November 1, 2013 § Leave a comment

The psyCommons began as a flicker of intuition.

A decade of necessary resistance to the state’s attempt to capture psychotherapy and counselling in the UK masked a more important perspective – around 75% of the population have no need of ‘mental health’ services. What is it they know and do that keeps them psysavvy?

This video begins to examine and define these capacities – the ordinary wisdom and shared power of the psyCommons. If you have anything to add or subtract, let’s hear it.

The second in a series of videos about the psyCommons looks at how the basic human capacity to resolve and survive the ordinary difficulties of daily life through family, friends and local communities, is undermined by the psychological professions, along with their pharma allies.

The psyCommons and its Enclosures: Professionalized Wisdom and the Abuse of Power

A third video is a bit of a sideways step. Butterfly Therapy builds on some images I made a while back to honour the common sense capacity we have to survive, recover and flourish from many, if not all, of the challenges of the human condition.

The psyCommons and Community Psychology – Thomas Allan

August 23, 2013 § 1 Comment

Rapport is one of the basic elements of the psyCommons

As the psyCommons idea has begun to move out into the world it has set off chat about its value and context. The most recent take on the psyCommons was this article, The richness of everyday relationships in a leading UK Counselling journal, Therapy Today. A handy nudge in the right direction. David Bollier wrote a blog piece about it and so also, in German, did Silke Helfrich and in Spanish, Javier Jiménez Cuadros.

Some of the most valuable support and insight have come from Thomas Allan, and this guest blog entry by him features a collection of four reflections on the psyCommons idea, inspired by his enthusiasm for Community Psychology.


Having recently read “The Richness of Everyday Relationships”, I wanted to put my support behind the ‘shared power’ and ‘ordinary wisdom’ of the ‘psyCommons’. The article prompted me to reflect on the role of the professional in the helping professions, dominant forms of knowledge and language, and on my own values, commitment and accountability to marginalized individuals and groups in various community contexts.

The psyCommons is a name for the universe of rapport – of relationships between people – through which daily life is navigated. But in my view, the psyCommons is also a model for critical thinking and systemic wisdom.

As I read, the notion of psyenclosures became clearer: Psychiatry and Psychology – an enclosure of our ordinary wisdom and shared power? Solicitors and Barristers – an enclosure of our ability to resolve conflict? In our local community, the car garage has enclosed a monopoly market share by accumulating and sequestering expertise in fixing cars. How far does the metaphor of enclosure go? Does the Hairdresser enclose our ability to maintain our personal appearance? At what point is a community service an enclosure and at what point a shared community resource? It seems only a question of management, but it also raises questions of values and power.

An insight that struck me was the reference to the boundaries between the psyenclosures and the psyCommons; a kind of socially determined ‘mental illness’ that divides and alienates. In this context, boundaries signify inclusion or exclusion and, rather than being fixed, obvious and natural, are a human constructed limitation on what is the acceptable extent of responsibility and participation. It implies that some are able to participate in a given system, but others are not, and those who are not have been dispossessed of the reciprocal social ties and psychological supports necessary for their well-being. For me, it evoked Michel Foucault in Madness and Civilization of how society constructs diversity as deviance using ‘totalizing’ discourses that reflect the power of one group over another, where ‘psychiatry provides the grand narrative..’ (Prilleltensky & Nelson 2010).

Boundaries then, when used as a control mechanism, can also lead to social marginalization; economic and social disadvantage where individuals and communities are systematically blocked from rights, opportunities and resources (e.g. housing, employment, healthcare). It is possible to reduce what is from what is not in the medical world mainly through cause and effect relationships (Virus = Illness, Vaccine = Prevention, Treatment = Cure), but in the social world we need to contextualise in order to understand why or how something has happened. In the absence of objective certainty, the decision to boundary between social in-group and social out-group is not a scientific act of discovery but an act of power. The same kind of power is exercised by anyone who comes to control a jointly used resource where the right of others to use it is lost; a boundary or limitation has been established seen typically in the case of property rights and land ownership e.g. colonisation, enclosure of common land or corporate land grabs. In the context of the psy professions, Community Psychologists Carolyn Kagan and Mark Burton (2010) refer to this deeply problematic, simplistic and reductionist process as the ‘ideological definition of one’s identity in the interests of dominant groups’:


I find much in common in the psyCommons with Community Psychology (CP), a sub discipline of Psychology that seeks to understand people in context with communities and the wider society. It’s a values based approach that draws especially (but not exclusively) from constructivist and transformative paradigms. There are many practical applications and interventions but in brief CP has an ecological theme (the fit between people and their environment), stresses the importance of cultural relativity and diversity so that people are not judged by one single standard or value, and a focus on social change ‘towards a maximally equitable distribution of psychological as well as material resources’ (Rappaport 1977:3). A very useful quote by Community Psychologist Ed Trickett appears to link this approach to the psyCommons concept: “Human activity is not situated within a social vacuum; it is situated within a socio-historical and cultural context of meanings and relationships” (Trickett 1996; Prilleltensky & Nelson 2010). CP also promotes principles such as ‘Sense of Community’ and ‘Social Capital’, both of which I would suggest are principles shared by the psyCommons:

Sense of Community: Community Psychologist Seymour Sarason described it as ‘the sense that there is a network of and structure of relationships that strengthens rather than dilutes feelings of loneliness; the sense that one belongs in and is meaningfully part of a larger collectivity’ (Sarason 1988:41)

Social Capital: Speaks of the potential of communities to improve the well-being of their members through the synergy of associations, mutual trust, sense of community and collective action (Hooghe, 2003; McKenzie & Harpham 2006).

CP makes visible the dominant cultural narrative of ‘blaming the victim’: “What typically seems to happen is that the situation of marginalized persons is portrayed as result of their own characteristics. What is essentially a social and historical phenomenon is presented as a biological or an intra-psychic event” (Kagan & Burton 2010). Linking this to the psyenclosures, this creates demand for experts who are employed to define the reality of individuals by reducing their personal experiences to a set of pathologies with technical names and treatments.

According to this view, the existing social reality internalizes the ideological narrative (such as the stereotyping of the mentally ill or indeed the unemployed, elderly or the disabled – consider the TV comedy ‘Little Britain’ whose basis for humour was a set of sketches based entirely around poking fun at the victims of this process of marginalization) and ‘reality’ is then seen as a natural rather than socially determined state of affairs. Kagan and Burton’s view is that “psychology has often colluded with ideologies that blame the victim by offering endogenous ‘causes’ of the situations in which oppressed people find themselves”.

But by drawing from the value of holism and using an ecological metaphor, CP provides an effective antidote to medical model reductionism. An example of this is understanding mental illness not only at the level of individual characteristics, but as relating to other factors such as unemployment and debt, lack of social support networks or discrimination. This perspective provides a different lens through which to understand reality and implies that changes in human behaviour are possible when boundaries of the social and organisational environment can be changed. As the network of shared power, rapport and relationship between individuals in current and historical system dynamics, this theoretical approach shares a common principle with the psyCommons.

Social Ecological Model: pays explicit attention to the social, institutional, and cultural contexts of people-environment relations. This perspective emphasizes the multiple dimensions (example: physical environment, social and cultural environment, personal attributes), multiple levels (example: individuals, groups, organizations), and complexity of human situations (example: History: cumulative impact of events over time?)


What can be done in practice? Well, this needs further exploration, but by asking different questions; questions that prompt critical reflection rather than the questions that propose there is a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer. And rather than critique, as intriguing as it is, what would be useful is critical thinking in practice, prompting people to reflect on questions such as those proposed by Flyvbjerg (2001) ‘Where are we going?’ ‘Is this direction desirable?’ ‘Who gains and who loses?’ ‘By which mechanism of power?’, thus, we are now concerned with ‘how values and power play out in social change processes in various contexts’ (Prilleltensky & Nelson 2010).

I would also emphasise bringing a sense of shared history such as that of the Commons to the foreground. Smith (1999) states “to hold an alternative history is to hold alternative knowledge. The [learning to be had from] access to alternative knowledge is that they can form the basis of alternative ways of doing things.” I think developing learning towards a critical understanding of dominant cultural narratives, and developing alternative forms of knowledge alongside new structures of governance and processes of civic accountability is crucial. In particular, the work cooperative: “an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise”(ICA), which explicitly embodies the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity, is particularly suited to meet these objectives as an alternative to the dominant bureaucratic organisation.


Other areas for exploration that came to mind when reading “The Richness of Everyday Relationships”:

Empathy: the need to reconnect to others through thought, feeling, listening, talking, deed, gesture, planning and action.

In an economics of enclosure, the psyCommons are fragments: fragments of thoughts, fragments of ideas, fragments of feeling, fragments of communications, fragments of understanding, fragments of the whole.

Empathy is a vital connecting quality enabling those who empathise to understand what they have in common as opposed to emphasising differences. It provides understanding of a diverse range of experience and it is this diversity that makes up the picture of the whole. Moreover, listening to the stories of others can make them real for those who care enough to listen, validate their experiences, help guide people towards their own solutions and empower people to re-claim their history.

Culture: Culture = Commons, Enclosures = Control of Culture?

Culture can be defined as ‘the knowledge, language, values, customs and material objects that are passed from person to person and from one generation to the next in a human group or society..’

The Commons is about culture and cultural change. What is needed is the reclaiming of culture, both economic and psychological, from an oppressive norm or societal status quo; e.g. enclosure, (monopoly) capital.

Discourse: Discourse Analysis is a useful way of theorizing culture, and “social processes operating in contested terrains, in which different voices become hegemonic” (Bratton 2010).

Metaphor: The importance of using metaphor to link social constructs to concrete things. “Metaphors reveal alternative ways of thinking about the origin and nature or organizing, its processes and the constructs that form its ontological roots” (Bratton 2010). Thus, using the enclosures as a metaphor, an historical antecedent and a current reality, in this sense, provides an alternative lens through which to understand reality (ontology).

Aristotle: ‘Midway between the unintelligible and the commonplace it is Metaphor that produces the most knowledge’

Organisation: Organisations and organizing play a central role to both the health of the psyCommons and the process of enclosure. The dominant metaphor as applied to organisations is overwhelmingly the machine metaphor and fits the objectives of the bureaucratic organisational form: ‘organisations were viewed as the primary vehicle through which lives were rationalised, planned, articulated, scientized, made more efficient, orderly and managed by experts’ (Bratton 2010).


Bratton, J. 2010 Work and Organizational Behaviour

Carter, P. & Jackson, N. Re-thinking Organizational Behaviour: A Poststructuralist Framework

Flyvbjerg, B. 2001 Making Social Science Matter: Why Social Inquiry Fails and how it can succeed Again

Parkhurst, J. The Social Side of Health (Blog)

Prilleltensky, I. & Nelson, G. 2010 Community Psychology: In Pursuit of Liberation and Well-being

Rappaport, J. 1977 Community Psychology: Values, Research, & Action

Restakis, J. 2010 Humanizing the Economy: Cooperatives in the Age of Capital

Smith, L.T. 1999 Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples

Sarason, S. 1988 The Psychological Sense of Community

Making Money

June 3, 2013 § 4 Comments

This is a second post of reflections following my participation in the Economics and the Common(s) Conference  – From Seed Form to Core paradigm in Berlin May 22-24, 2013.  Find the first post Beyond Market and State – the Commons and Commoning here.


Courtesy of the generosity of the Heinrich Böll Foundation an enormous amount of material from the May 2013 Berlin conference is online here, alongside this I thought I’d post a few headlines of strategies, tactics or perspectives that I found valuable. And in recognition of an emphasis in the conference on the economics of commons and commoning I’ll follow this with a longer account of the talk about money by Jem Bendell that for me was the highlight of the event.

First a few headlines:

Commons culture emphasises a move from transaction to relationships
In a psyCommons context this means letting go of a deferential bow to the transactions of professional psychological expertise framed as assessment, diagnosis and treatment, and moving to giving or receiving help or care based on relationship that includes rapport.

We need to make a move from developing ‘exchange value’ to ‘use value’
As I’m coming to understand this it means letting go of money as a yardstick of value and moving toward utility – towards liking, or love as an indicator of validity in a service, object or relationship.

Patenting is only the tip of a vast iceberg of trade secrets
Patenting and copyright have seemed reasonable as due protection and reward for creative effort until, as the conference reminded me, they become increasingly enclosures encroaching more and more into daily life – the public face of its commoditization. Also from a psyCommons perspective, much of the contents of patent and copyright enclosures have been paid for from public funds.

Establish commoning principles but have the humility to know they are only provisional
This is my intention with the psyCommons proposal i.e. that it is a proposal subject to revision and update (and contribution!).

Don’t be over-interested in definitions of the commonsa tomato doesn’t need to know whether it is a fruit or a vegetable
I agree but I have learned to distinguish between what amounts to a common pool resource and what I see as a functional commons – groups of people in relationship held and sustained by negotiations about principles and procedures. Here is a listing from the commons I belong to.

Caring for the Health Commons: What it is and Who’s Responsible for it
Michael D. McGinnis February 20, 2013
I came across this at the commons conference, McGinnis gives a helpful overview of priorities.

Resist claims which suggest that anything that doesn’t belong to the state is bad, dangerous or invalid
I can’t now recall who said this but I have long supported the need to honour wilderness both in the sense of unfettered imagination and in resisting the desire for enclosure of people in flight from their own and other’s creative chaos.

Reclaim subjectivity from the distortions of capital
If the first task of the psyCommons notion is recognition of a thriving common pool resource of ordinary wisdom and shared power, the second task is to make whatever contributions we can to dissolving what Negri and Hardt call the empire within, the extent to which we have become entranced by the imperatives of capital.

Commoneering, Money Markets and Value
A talk by Jem Bendell, Professor of Sustainability Leadership at the University of Cumbria gave what was for me an electrifying outline of the huge formative influence money has on lives and well being. The video of his talk is available here. The following account is an appreciative review of what he had to say.

Jem defined a commons very technically (he’s a professor!) ‘a commons is a system of relations between people and phenomena that has an emergent property of  sustained sufficient access for all’, and then moved on to talk about money.

The current mainstream money system he told us represents an almost total enclosure of our ability to trust each other. Governments, central banks and private banks work together to generate the dominant means of exchange, the dominant way we relate to each other. This banking system drives further enclosure and it works against a commons culture because of the way that credit is created.

Where does money come from? 97% of money, he pointed out is issued by private banks. When we take out a loan, the bank, through extending credit to us, is creating new money.

While there are a lot of different currencies world-wide, the bank-issued debt system behind them is the same. What does this mean, he asked? The shocking answer was that we are all in debt for ever because all this money is issued with interest. This means that there is more debt than there is money to pay off what has been borrowed. The system can only continue if there are ever increasing amounts of money loaned each year. As I type this I find myself asking, isn’t this a Ponzi, i.e. ‘pyramid’ scheme on a global scale?

Jem went on to say that the scale of the indebtedness feeds massive inequality and it also means the economy has to grow because loans will only be issued to service economic activity.

This creates an intense growth imperative that drives the commodification of more and more of daily life and planetary resources, there is a pressing need to turn everything into a commodity that will yield a profit so as to service the interest on the debt.

Jem Bendell argued that this monetary system is anti-commons, it prevents the growth of a commons economy. It shapes the way we experience life, we think that wealth is scarce, that we must all compete for a share of it when actually, as he emphasised very strongly, the wealth is us.

How to take this economic perspective into commons life, or daily, or indeed any aspect of life was less clear but I did come to understand why there is so much attention given to alternative currencies that are attempting get outside what he called the ‘bankertarian’ or ‘bankocracy’ of money based on indebtedness.

Shocking too to realise that money whether global and personal is a very elaborate form of fiction, as I mentioned earlier a story, apparently in the Ponzi tradition, in which constant growth is a precondition for the scheme to continue.

But as Jem Bendel pointed out in his conclusion, it can’t continue, we are already over the critical threshold of 440ppm of carbon dioxide and half the Arctic ice has been melting each summer for a while now. Here is the slide he showed us.

Arctic Sea Ice Hits Smallest Extent in Satellite Era    NASA 09.19.12

We need a new story. Urgently. And if it was the intention of the Commons conference to bring this home, it worked for me.

While my understanding of capital has been poor but improving lately, I have long seen a belief in the inevitability of capitalism as a form of trance induction. Historically, people, courageous people risked (and sometimes lost) their lives to extricate themselves from the cradle-to-grave grip of medieval Roman Catholic trance induction, I suspect that with capitalism we are faced with an equivalent task.

Trance inductions reinforce beliefs through disallowing discrimination, while I don’t suppose it is news to see capital as a particularly archaic but virulent heritage religion, we need to step off critique and make up a new story that breaks capital’s self-serving trance, one that serves mutuality and reciprocity rather than bankers and their cronies. Can the commons provide that story? I suspect the commons is the story.

Do we have the time? That remains to be seen.

I’ll update this post with links to the Commons conference key-note videos and other documentation when they become available.

Beyond Market and State – the Commons and Commoning

June 3, 2013 § 2 Comments

This is the first of two posts of reflections following my participation in the Economics and the Common(s) Conference  – From Seed Form to Core paradigm in Berlin May 22-24, 2013  See also the second post Making Money.

In this post I’ll offer some reflections on the conference experience and in the second I’ll say something about what I’ll take away from it into commoning.

I had three agendas for the four days of the Berlin Commons conference; the first was to gain perspective on the psyCommons perspective, the proposal that there is an existing and thriving commons of human rapport, ordinary wisdom and shared power. Done. It was easy to see how the psyCommons notion sits within an emerging worldwide cultural/political movement focused on commons and commoning, plus rolling back or interrupting enclosures of commons of any kind. What is being sought is a way of structuring human social relations that reaches ‘beyond market and state’.

My concerns about whether the psyCommons proposal had legs were dissolved by the experience of discovering at the conference a vast collection of global and local networks of commons action and intention, many of them wildly divergent but in ways that spoke of the emergence of powerful cooperative ethos. Agenda item two: make connection with key exponents of the emerging commons, over two hundred people from 30 countries attended the conference. Done.

The positive zizz of the conference was overwhelming, how to keep discrimination awake was sometimes a struggle.

Each morning at breakfast in the hotel the muzak played Judy Garland singing Over the Rainbow. Might the commons movement and with it the psyCommons proposal be only a tiny blip on the event horizon of capital accumulation? Might commoning be co-opted as a band aid for its woundings? An ever present danger perhaps but aren’t we also inhabitants of an inflection point in history equivalent in its scope to transform our economic life as Gutenberg’s press? And if so doesn’t the re-emergence of the commons as a way of structuring social relations provide an antidote to the supposed inevitability of capital?

The Commons conference could hardly have been more richly placed to support the notion of the dissolution of apparent cultural inevitability. The Heinrich Böll Foundation hosted it and fifty metres away across the street from Foundation’s somewhat cubic building…


….was another cube, a 1942 WW2 air raid shelter, icon of an earlier, apparently immutable, institution that nevertheless perished…


…albeit following the application of considerable force.


And a certain optimism could be held to permeate the very ground beneath us in the conference venue. The Heinrich Böll Foundation occupies a site in the Mitte district of central Berlin that until 1989 was behind the Berlin Wall.


In that year the German Democratic Republic, the GDR, a client state of the USSR that had for decades maintained a barbed wire and guard post grip on millions of German people, succumbed to determined peaceful resistance (though not without enormous pain and recrimination). Optimism about the commons as a ‘world beyond market and state’ could still be misplaced but the Berlin wall fell, an unimaginable event for those of us old enough to have seen the horror of it in operation. So too in some countries have civil rights been transformed (not to forget slavery) and there have been local successes too, the toxicity of smoking seemed immutable but sustained effort has created smoke-free offices and other buildings.

And then there is the matter of scale, how can the re-emergence of commons and commoning match the scale of the interplay of market with the transport commons that we met on arrival at the Berlin central station?

BerlinTrainStation2 copy

Here again might not threads of optimism about commoning be found? What makes such an elaborate infrastructure and huge complexity of processes feasible both in design and management? Isn’t it software and internet interoperability? And isn’t this, as was very apparent at the Commons conference, now available to anyone and everyone? So far as the psyCommons proposal suggests that human rapport is ubiquitous, don’t we now through the internet and associated software, have the means of production for communities of global and local commons?

A third agenda I took with me to Berlin was the expectation of being able to contribute, to find people for whom the psyCommons proposal would seem like a gift. The richness of the presentations, perspectives and diversity of takes on what the commons might be, should be, or already was, ran wall to wall, and some of it was vividly memorable, however contribution turned out to be more problematic and I remain unclear why this was (but read on).

In the infrastructures stream I gave a brief account of the Independent Practitioners Network (IPN), a long-standing commons infrastructure, but there were no followup questions, no further interest. I raised the notion of psyCommons in the culture stream but again it was received politely but without questions or followup. Did I run into, as I suspect, some (appropriate) aversion to psychology as a pariah domain of distress and stigma? (there’s an understanding among therapists that at a party never say you are a psychotherapist – people will disappear).

Awkward this and it could be mindfluff. However for all its value (see post 2!) I did tend to experience some aspects the conference as leaning towards the technocratic –  technocratic in the sense that there is a technical solution to any and every problem and away from the subjectivities of heart and body (though the food was great!).

I had expected to meet far more lived experience of commons and commoning, instead intellectual/academic conversations ‘about’ commons often seemed to prevail – there was a strong ‘digital commons’ story – that sometimes morphed into a ‘knowledge commons’ narrative which seemed to presume that everything of consequence can be digitised – there was even an assertion that ‘all commons are knowledge commons’.

And it needs to be acknowledged that this was framed by a repeated emphasis on the need to move from transaction to relationship. I take this as a reminder that human relationship is based on a commonality of presence, of gaze, of body language, where feeling and emotion, sustained through rapport precede and shape discrimination and action. But oops… might we be back to the pariah domain of psychology?

If any of this seems mean-spirited, this is not my intention, that my lived experience of being in a long-standing commons with at least two significant fruits, didn’t find significant engagement, was disappointing but the feeling of disappointment rests happily on the richness of an otherwise phenomenal event – for some further details of which, see post two, Making Money

The psyCommons and the richness of everyday relationships

April 22, 2013 § 1 Comment

The psyCommons notion is a statement about the ordinary wisdom and shared power of our daily relations with others. it is about recognizing and valuing the myriad forms and instances of these relations as a commons resource in company with the air we breathe, the rivers, the oceans and the radio spectrum.

The psyCommons is alive and well. It is a wilderness reverberating with the ironies and contradictions, the delights and derelictions of the human condition. And, as throughout history, it is perpetually under threat due to distortion  and exploitation from enclosures, the capture and sequestering for profit or advantage of various forms of our wealth.

The psyCommons blog aims to give attention to both of these dimensions of the psyCommons it provides a space for inquiry, for work in progress. Contributions are invited.

Recommended as a way of getting to know the psCommons, is a recent talk I gave, reprinted in the April 2013 issue of Therapy Today, entitled the ‘Richness of everyday relationships’, podcast

A gift from the air

December 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

In recent weeks as I geared up to post this blog. I have felt like a hen sitting on the psyCommons egg and waiting for it to hatch.

The commons of the air has been close by.

Falcons nesting in a wall above the kitchen.

Swallows negotiating loudly above our heads over breakfast.

And then a gift arrived from the air commons. As I sat taking in the landscape, a bird plopped into the grandchildren’s paddling pool next to me.

It sat in the water, motionless, contemplating what amounted to a bad move.


My wife and I fished it out gently with a broom. Settled it on a nearby wall. A young bird? A falcon? Wet feathers, too heavy to fly.


We waited for what would come next. 40 minutes passed. Warm wind. Under-feathers drying. Under-feathers dry. Open wings. Fly. This inhabitant of the air commons took off north disappearing above the forest.

These and the other birds here rattle n shake my imagination.


These swallows know how to fly south down the east coat of Spain across the straights of Gibraltar and south into Africa and find their way back here next year.

Each summer the falcon chicks have a massive existential crisis. For the first time they step off the ledge 40ft up in the wall to become actors in the air commons. What are all these feathers for? Oh yes, flap. Fly. Oh shit, where’s  the nest. This young falcon, whether exhausted, or lost, clung to the ivy outside the kitchen window for a long time before risking another attempt to fly back home.


And the bird in the pool. It had fallen into a piece of life for which it seemed under resourced. Wet, but not drowning, it sat motionless in the pool and motionless on the wall afterwards. Fearless? Terrified?

Do we humans not also have ‘learning to fly’ moments – leaving home for the first time – do we not also mistakenly land in pools and get our flying feathers wet? Situations where struggle is unavoidable? Where we learn from the experience and build a more savvy approach to daily life? And where on occasion support for our difficulties from other inhabitants of the commons is likely to be valuable?

What counts as support and from whom, and to what purpose, is what the psyCommons is about.

The psyCommons – further ferment

December 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

The psyCommons is work in progress, it is not a thing, or a settled perspective, it is more an intuition that might or might not settle as relevant or useful or accurate.

Since I posted the previous material, quite a few developments have occurred that have both shaken and consolidated the notion of a psyCommons.

The School of Commoning hosted several days of commons workshops and meetings in November. I showed up at the opening meeting in the House of Commons (a curious irony there, I felt) followed by a whole day on commons healthcare, and a half a day on commons economics. James Qilligan was a key feature of all of these events; he brought a presence and perspectives on the commons that nourished the psyCommons notion, though I had very little opportunity to speak about it. His take on healthcare commons is here.

Showing up is essential, and these occasions bore fruit right away. I realized that while there was a lot of talk about how this or that possibility of a commons might be worth pursuing, I was a participant in three actual commons. The Alliance for counseling and psychotherapy is a commons, the Independent Practitioners Network is a commons and I have lately been part of an intense family healthcare commons. Ring a ding! This was exciting.

While there was no space at these events (or I didn’t take space) for the psyCommmons notion) what did bite was what I had to offer about civic accountability – a virtual product of participation in the Independent Practitioner Network commons. I had written this up as a possible offering for a commons conference in Berlin in May 2013, you can find a copy of it in the pageshere.

This cluster of commons related events and awakenings was being fed by two other initiatives: one, publication of my book Therapy Futures: Obstacles and opportunities – introducing the psyCommons, and secondly, a conference hosted by the Alliance for counselling and psychotherapy that explored future trajectories and current concerns of psychological therapies. My talk for this event is the latest iteration of the psyCommons notion, you can read it in the pages here, or listen to the podcast (not yet).

The last in this autumn cluster of public commons related events was a book launch hosted by the ever-diligent School of Commoning. Advance copies of The Wealth of the Commons: a world beyond market and state edited by David Bollier and Silke Helfrich, Levelers Press, were for sale and the evening featured David Bollier in person.

While the commons form of human relating is rooted in open grassroots participation and horizontal governance, this doesn’t mean that hierarchies of experience (and courage) are not also valuable and David Bollier, along with James Gilligan in the previous week, contributed essential international global perspectives. A necessary accompaniment to what I suspect will often necessarily be local commons initiatives.

When I finish it, I’ll try to post a review of The Wealth of the Commons, a collection of 90 contributions from a Berlin 2011 international commons conference.

How has the psyCommons notion been shaken by any of this? Principally discovering that some of the language lacked precision and I’ll end this post with a heads up call that I have picked up from David Bollier. In a chapter from the above Wealth of Commons book entitled Global enclosures in the service of empire pp. 212-3, and, see this commons definition, he makes a request for a clarification in how we talk (and think/approach) the commons. I began to understand that we must distinguish, as Eleanor Ostrom does, between ‘common pool resources’ such as air and oceans and forests, and reserve ‘commons’ for specific instances of the structuring of common pool resource usage.

I understand this now in the following way: The River Thames can be seen as a ‘common pool resource’ – suppose that users of the river – for recreation, sport, transport, fishing and education plus houseboat owners and mooring landlords – had collectively developed a mission/agreement such as ‘Love the Thames’ – this could lead to the formation of a group structured as a commons to pursue/sustain this agenda.

More on recipes for commons structures another day. ­

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