Technology and the Making of Europe


Inventing and Governing Transnational Commons in Europe (EUROCOMMONS)

Project leader: Nil Disco

Resources are often embedded in large geophysical features like seas, the air, big rivers, or mountain ranges which in Europe, by virtue of its small political scale, produce chronic international competition over their use. Such multi-state resources tend to acquire aspects of a ‘commons’, shared resources open to all. Hence, they are also prone to the ‘tragedy’ of the commons deriving from the game-theoretical assumption that no one will moderate his own use of a common resource if he or she expects others will not follow suit. The original prediction was that this would inevitably lead to overuse of common resources, crowding, and ultimately the demise of the commons. Critical commons theorists have argued that for cultural and institutional reasons such tragic outcomes are often averted in practice, but in so doing they have all but neglected the important role of technologies in this process, thereby not only misrepresenting the historical record, but also producing a less than adequate policy frame. This CRP proposes to bring technology back in by focusing on how technology has shaped new transnational resources and ultimately contributed to the regulation of their common use. Three roles for technology are identified: Technologies have literally produced resources and in the process imprinted specific patterns of entitlement and use. Technologies have increased the productivity of resource exploitation and thereby shifted many common resources from the status of limitless ‘public goods’ to scarce and threatened ‘common pool resources’. At the same time new technologies of measurement and communication, together with new scientific theories, have created conditions for understanding wrongly perceived public goods as in fact limited common pool resources. 3) Technological innovation is interwoven with collective efforts to regulate the transnational use of common pool resources. These concepts will be explored and tested by investigating a number of very different kinds of transnational commons in Europe from 1850 to the present

Though the project was not financed as part of the ESF Inventing Europe Eurocores program, we have been fortunate in getting financial support from ESF, the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), the Foundation for the History of Technology and The University of Lisbon. This has enabled us to hold a series of meetings in the course of which we have been able to refine our conceptualization of the role of technology in the making of transnational commons and to review the chapters that will go into our proposed book.  We are happy to announce that we are now under contract with MIT press to produce a book tentatively called Transnational Commons in Europe (Nil Disco and Eda Kranakis, eds.). It is expected that the book will be published in the spring of 2012. Contributing authors and chapter topics are:

Håkon With Andersen – North Sea
Bruce Hevly – Svalbard Archipelago
Nil Disco – The Rhine
Arne Kaijser – Transboundary air pollution
Kristiina Korjonen-Kuusipuro – Vuoksi River
Eda Kranakis – European Airspace
Nina Wormbs – European Etherspace
Tiago Saraiva – Agricultural biodiversity
Paul Edwards – Weather Forecasts