The Political Uncommons: The Cross-Cultural Logic of the Global Commons, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

The Political Uncommons

The Cross-Cultural Logic of the Global Commons, 1st Edition

By Kathryn Milun


240 pages

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New in Paperback: 9781138376441
pub: 2018-10-18
Hardback: 9780754671398
pub: 2011-01-28

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In The Political Uncommons, Kathryn Milun presents a cultural history of the global commons: those domains, including the atmosphere, the oceans, the radio frequency spectrum, the earth's biodiversity, and its outer space, designated by international law as belonging to no single individual or nation state but rather to all humankind. From the res communis of Roman property law to early modern laws establishing the freedom of the seas, from the legal battles over the neutrality of the internet to the heritage of the earth's genetic diversity, Milun connects ancient, modern, and postmodern legal traditions of global commons. Arguing that the logic of legal institutions governing global commons is connected to the logic of colonial doctrines that dispossessed indigenous peoples of their land, she demonstrates that the failure of international law to adequately govern the earth's atmosphere and waters can be more deeply understood as a cultural logic that has successfully dispossessed humankind of basic subsistence rights. The promise of global commons, Milun shows, has always been related to subsistence rights and an earth that human communities have long imagined as 'common' existing alongside private and public domains. Utilizing specific case studies, The Political Uncommons opens a way to consider how global commons regimes might benefit from the cross-cultural logics found where indigenous peoples have gained recognition of their common tenure systems in Western courts.


'Back in the exhilarating days of rampant culture theory during the 1980s when all manner of concepts applied in our everyday lives were being critically rethought, I considered Kathryn Milun's scholarship on "empty space" both exemplary and exciting. Now in our age of doing, of activist desire and effort, I meet again Milun's work, but this time as the most successfully realized case of scholarly action, following the threads of her earlier work to achieve a legally cunning and ethnographically plausible program for establishing commons in the new empty spaces amid and alongside neoliberal designs.'

George E. Marcus, University of California, Irvine, USA and co-author of Designs for an Anthropology of the Contemporary

Table of Contents

Contents: Introduction; An emergent global commons: biodiversity - a case study of how culture becomes law and nature becomes empty space; Part I Res Nullius/Terra Nullius and the Epistemic Imaginary of International Law: Terra nullius, res nullius and res communis: a conceptual confusion of terms; Res nullius - the tragedy of the (modern global) commons: from Grotius and the high seas to the internet; Covering res that move: theory and practice: whales as res divini juris; The law of the seas extended vertically into the law of outer space and the law of outer space reterritorializing the Earth. Part II Two Cases of the Revocation of Terra Nullius: the Western Sahara case: genealogies captured by the census; Negotiations and the Mabo case: comparative epistemic imaginaries. Conclusion: beyond empty space - expanding the epistemological repertoire of the global commons through biofigural and technological imaginaries; Bibliography; Index.

About the Author

Kathryn Milun teaches in the Anthropology/Sociology department of the University of Minnesota Duluth and has a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies. She is the author of Pathologies of Modern Space: Empty Space, Urban Anxiety and the Recovery of the Public Self (Routledge, 2007).

About the Series

Law, Justice and Power

Law, Justice and Power
To speak about law is always and necessarily to be engaged in a discourse about both justice and power. While law's relationship to justice is everywhere contingent and uncertain, law completely divorced from power is unthinkable. And, while law need not be virtuous to be law, if it had no effect in the world it could hardly be said to merit the name law. Recognizing these facts, the series on Law, Justice and Power takes a broad view of legal scholarship.It publishes books by social scientists, humanists and legal academics which connect an understanding of culture's normative ideals with examination of the complex ways that law works in the world, insist that justice is inseparable from social practices and analyze law as one form of power, one way of constituting, controlling and changing the social world. It focuses on state law as well as law in communities and cultural practices and on identities and their articulation in and through law, on law's power in the taken-for-granted world, on its role in the complex construction of nation and national power and on global developments which today destabilize and transform the meaning and significance of law. The series invites innovative scholarship that crosses disciplinary as well as geographic and temporal boundaries.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LAW / General
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Freedom & Security / Human Rights