The study of commoning as subject and means flourished in some of its objectives and failed in others. In many instances, we were lacking tools, techniques and experiences for moving between heavy institutional structures, everyday routines of thinking and doing, and the desires to do differently. Still, we would like to share a set of challenges listed here in alphabetical order to make some features of our struggle transparent, and to articulate small achievements and failures, so others can build on, refuse or add to our experiences of studying together:
Accessibility: It is important to find ways to share both the process and products of the research. While realising a research project, it is important to keep in mind multiple forms of public and provide open access to the insights gained and developed.
Beneficiaries: In the context of a research project, it is important to ask: who is able to submit a research proposal? Who benefits from it? Who writes the outline of such a project? Who can participate? In the everyday life of our project, we failed to regularly address questions of the research’s beneficiaries: who will be included, whose language is spoken, and whose knowledge appropriated? Only some of the researchers addressed the danger of implementing diversity politics that only benefit Western and Eurocentric institutions. We need to meaningfully engage with questions of accessibility, refuse diversity tokenism and ensure leadership and funding for those whose knowledge is ordinarily exploited by Western institutions.
Economic redistribution, or study with, rather than about: In our research proposal, the budget did not consider payment for co-researchers. But projects should also provide payment to students who invest extra time and energy. In a world that thrives on uneven wealth distribution, finding ways to think about fair payments among core researchers and all contributors is crucial.
Free education, or supporting life: In the first year of the project, we had the opportunity to organise an international summer school. The summer school was free of charge, and during the ten days we provided food and drinks without cost for the participants. This enabled an important social constellation: we sat, worked and ate together. We are used to paying for the things that keep us alive; commoning has to re-evaluate this condition.
Mutuality of institutional cooperations: The decision to travel to Addis Ababa and collaborate with students and teachers of the University of Addis Ababa was motivated by the vision of using the project to support existing, but fragile, institutional relations between the Alle School and the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. The project has taught us that asking questions such as who can travel where is vital if we are to commit to the mutuality of this institutional cooperation.
Intellectual property rights: In the course of the research project, we rarely talked about intellectual property. We avoided the question of how to deal with ideas that might enable some to secure professional positions, or realise new career steps, another project, or profit. In retrospect, as long as we are working under Western systems of law, it seems necessary to devise and agree upon contracts with each other.
Shared knowledge: The initial project proposal was written by a small group of people, most members of our group joined the project at a later point. As a consequence, the aim and methodology changed dramatically between the start and end dates. After nearly one year of working together, we were able to reformulate our proposal. This entailed an in-depth negotiation of ideas and languages within a group of researchers from different fields.
Spatial redistribution, or the location of study: Our working space was located in a newly established temporary use project, where local artists and small businesses were invited to meet, work together and develop a common space in exchange for lower rent costs. However, the umbrella project — like most temporary use projects — was designed to nourish a vivid local cultural scene, ultimately enticing real estate investment. Thus, when thinking about how to support communal use and the right to the city, it is key to think about space not only in abstract but also in very specific terms — as the place we inhabit in our everyday life.