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Digital equipment and urban commons

Call for papers for Netcom journal
Hervé Le Crosnier et Philippe Vidal

After a long period of obfuscation, both on a practical and theoretical level, the question of the commons has recently resurfaced and is very much on the minds of activists and researchers alike. The “Economics Nobel” was awarded to the political scientist Elinor Ostrom in 2009 and this event accompanied and amplified the Renaissance of commons (Bollier, 2014; Coriat, 2015). It was set in motion at the beginning of the nineties, surrounding the publication of the major work by Ostrom, Governing the commons (Ostrom, 1990), the subject matter of which was the natural commons. At the same time, the question arose as to the status of the Internet as a new common, in the dual sense of common infrastructure (Benkler, 2012) and the mode of governance for adopting open protocols. The practices and positions of the actors on the Internet during the utopian years resulted, during the early 2000s, in the creation of a set of proposals aimed at reinforcing collaborative actions and sharing digital resources: legal operating licences (General Public Licence for software in 1989; Creative commons licences in 2002); opening of Wikipedia (2001) and OpenStreetMap (2007); political and social movements on intellectual property (SOPA and ACTA projects) or on the neutrality of the Internet, developing free access to science, etc.; creating common pools of knowledge (Le Crosnier, 2015).

Within this general context, the notion of commons sheds light on the analysis that can be conducted of new territorial practices on the ground, on the one hand, and of the social and democratic reorganisation on the other (Dardot, Laval, 2014). However, it is clouded by the generalisation of terms used in collaborative practices for the sole benefit of the so called shared economy platforms; “sharing”, “friends”, “circles”, “collaborative economy” have become expressions with double meanings, having strayed from their former social and interpersonal accepted meanings (Kennedy, 2013) to cover activities within proprietary ecosystems and interconnected through commercial relationships, transforming collective activities into what some people designate as “digital labour” (Casilli, 2015).

In this thematic issue of the Revue Netcom, our interest principally focuses on the notion of urban commons, and in this framework, on the specific place of digital equipment which supports them, accompanies them and makes them possible. These digital devices are not just hardware investments specific to the information society. The network infrastructures and their dedicated devices as well as the objects connected (smartphones, computers, GPS, cameras, various sensors, etc.) build on a whole set of “collective cognitive devices” (Orléan, 2004) contributing to the appearance of dematerialised service-based applications and developing increasingly sophisticated utilisations. Remote platforms and services should also be considered as infrastructure and equipment in that they enable interaction between different terminals and their users (social networks) or mobile access to information and services (cloud computing).

The objective of this issue is to gain a better understanding of the phenomena of collective actions supported or made possible by digital technology. What new forms of sharing have emerged within urban territories? Which former urban commons have been reactivated with this digital contribution? To what extent can digital technology relate to a certain form of departure from the traditional urban commons?

We look forward to case studies, comparisons between activities of commons construction, either in several places or according to distinct methods. We also anticipate more theoretical articles, helping to define this vast collection of urban commons in the digital age.

Four broad dimensions can be examined : (I) The new types of urban governance in the era of open data ; (II) Electro-urban sociabilities and the sharing economy ; (III) Cartography of the commons and re-appropriation of public space ; (IV) the role of digital technology in the departure from and turnaround of urban commons.

The new forms of urban governance in the age of open data

How do citizens contribute to the definition of urban planning in their areas, areas that need renovating or wasteland to build on? In this respect, what role does digital technology play in this new form of participatory governance and collective management of urban spaces? The “urban charters”, whose movement was launched following the Bologna experiment, define partnerships between citizens who are active in the maintenance of their town and the public authorities. This applies particularly to the area of water management (Luccarelli, 2013). Do these charters constitute fruitful and reproducible experiments? With regard to public open data from local authorities, the cost-free principle of which was again confirmed by the Ayrault government during the first Comité Interministériel pour la Modernisation de l’Action Publique (CIMAP – Inter-ministerial committee for the modernisation of public action), do they outline new perspectives for urban development policies? How significant is it of a willingness to change? Does this logic of co-construction of local services, as yet in its early stages, which seems to have raised awareness in some places (Rennes, Montpellier, Bordeaux, Nantes, Lyon etc.) but most frequently remains of little interest in others, herald a fundamental trend in the way to conduct local public policies from now on? Does the Open Data movement in itself include the promises of alternative policies of urban development within which “new territorialised actors” would effectively appear on the local public scene? Other data travel through towns packed with sensors, collecting big Data from domestic devices (smartphones, smart watches, intelligent power metering, etc.) (Peugeot, 2012). Will these data make it possible to build commons or are they mainly exploited by proprietary platforms?

Electro-urban sociabilities and the sharing economy

Urban sociabilities have been profoundly transformed by the use of social media. The use of goods has overtaken property with the development of a sharing or peer-to-peer economy (Bauwens, 2015). Digital tools play an important part in the ability of populations to build these commons, to reinvent means by which to protest, to finance projects, to exchange know-how, to get around, to find accommodation, to be entertained and lastly, to “remake society” (Rosanvallon, 2011). The return of market gardens in towns (permaculture, community gardens etc.), short channels (CSAs, on-farm retail, etc.), soft modes of transport and participatory urban planning, are signs of a new approach to the town that can be re-imagined within the context of the commons and in which digital technology plays a facilitating role. Questions arise here that focus on the new urban sociabilities generated by the sharing economy. How do they renew the relationship to the urban space? To what extent does digital technology make it possible to create sociabilities in the interstices or expose new forms of hyper spatiality (Lussault, 2014) and co-spatiality? Can urban commons renewed by digital technology make it possible to imagine the coexistence of spaces within the same territorial continuum? Digital practices of sociability, notably in mobility, define a new urban space which accomplishes a symbiosis between the digital ecosystem and the physical presence (dating apps, geolocation in social media, etc.). The cultural geography, the definition of the place where interaction takes place, is altered (Schneider, 2013). Can the benefits of these new forms of social behaviour be left solely to social media platforms, or does the participation of users require an examination of the socio-digital relationships and data they produce as a new common? How can local or alternative currencies alter the economic relationships in the territories? What contribution is made by participative funding platforms? How does the conception of a virtual currency as a commons participate in these urban transformations, and what role is played by the digital infrastructures (“blockchain” model)?

Cartographical commons and re-appropriation of the public space

1st May 2000 is the date the American GPS opened to the wider public and made it possible to create a large number of embedded apps on smartphones and other mobile, connected devices. Digital mapping, notably by means of “volunteer geography” (Bakis, Valentin, 2010), has taken a new direction, to the extent that it has now become possible to talk about a cartographical common. Like Geonames, OpenStreetMap, or geolocated elements in Wikipedia, the question of collective enhancement of cartographic data has arisen (extension of the cartographic data), as well as the conditions of use of this cartographic commons in a non-marketable and open source logic, for better access to the public domain. What has been forged in towns around an appropriation of the public space from now on mediated by geo-located digital technology? To what extent do these mapped commons really represent alternatives to private mapping services? How does this participatory mapping feed on public geographic data delivered free of charge? How should the continuum that exists between the notions of public domain and that of urban commons be understood? How should the largest number of inhabitants be able to rely on these mapped commons in order to re-appropriate the public space and avoid the risk of enclosure?

The role of digital technology in the departure from the urban commons

All these questions show how important it is to analyse urban renewal from the angle of the commons. Citizen participation, action from new social movements, namely in the cultural field (Rodotá, 2012; Festa, 2012) participate in re-appropriating places with the prospect for a new conception of the common space. In line with the same general movement, possibilities also exist for diverting from the use of the commons in favour of vertical structures, indeed pyramidal ones, with the implementation of a private capture of the value thus socially and collectively produced. Collaborative digital technology as commons pool resource, may find itself acting, despite itself, as a resource for the market sector and, by doing this, going against its initial philosophy. How should common public partnerships be implemented, sometimes with private business players on a mutual understanding? What sort of multi-stakeholder negotiations appear capable of preserving the spirit of urban commons and collaborative activity (Bollier and Helfrich, 2015) mediated by digital technology?

Submission of scientific papers

Papers should be 15 to 20 pages long, should include, on the first page, the author’s (or authors’) complete details, a title, an abstract and keywords in French and English.

The papers will be assessed by means of a double blind review.

Submission of scientific notes

In addition to scientific papers, this category contains research notes that do not have the status of the double-blind review paper but which nevertheless present an interest as to their innovative character or for the quality of the issues raised and the approaches considered. These are shorter texts than the papers (5 to 10 pages) either between 10000 and 15000 characters which must add a useful complement to the subject thematic of this special issue. This type of paper is also welcome in order to enable the reader to understand the issues or the interest in furthering reflection within the scope of future research.

Instructions for authors

Scientific papers and scientific notes may be published in French and/or English.

Papers should be sent to Hervé Le Crosnier ( and Philippe Vidal (

  • Hervé Le Crosnier is a university lecturer and researcher in computer science and digital culture at the Université de Caen, and associate researcher at the Institut des Sciences de la Communication du CNRS.

  • Philippe Vidal is a lecturer and researcher in geography at the Université du Havre, UMR IDEES 6266

Stipulations with regard to formatting can be found on :

More information about the journal :

Indicative timetable

- 1 April 2016: Call for papers.
- 15 September 2016: Submission of proposals.
- 1 November 2016: Return of proposal reviews.
- 1 December 2016: Return of papers with authors’ revisions
- 2017: Publication of the issue.


Bakis, Henry et Valentin, Jérémie, « Amateurisme cartographique et géographique à l’heure du web 2.0 », Netcom, 24-1/2 | 2010, 109-132.

Bauwens, Michel (2015) Sauver le monde : vers une économie post-capitaliste avec le peer-to-peer, Les Liens qui Libèrent.

Benkler, Yochai (2012), « Commons and Growth: The Essential Role of Open Commons in Market Economies », In: Frischmann, Brett M. (ed), Infrastructure: The Social Value of Shared resources, Oxford, 2012.

Bollier, David (2014) La renaissance des communs, ECLM.

Bollier, David and Helfrich, Silke (2015), Patterns of Commoning, Commons strategy group.

Casilli, Antonio et Cardon, Dominique (2015) Qu’est-ce que le digital labor ?, Paris : Institut national de l’audiovisuel

Coriat, Benjamin (coord.) (2015), Le retour des communs, la crise de l’idéologie propriétaire, Les Liens qui Libèrent.

Dardot, Pierre et Laval, Christian (2014), Commun : essai sur la révolution au XXIe siècle, La Découverte.

Festa, Daniela (2012), « Dalla rete di cittadini attivi all occupazione dell Ex-Cinema Palazzo : verso uno spazio pubblico » In Urbanistica Informazioni, Allegato al N° 239-240 Evoluzione dello spazio pubblico, materiali, forme, processi, Istituto Nazionale Urbanistica, INU Edizioni, 2012.

Kennedy, Jenny (2013), « Rhetorics of sharing: data, imagination and desire », In: Lovink, Geert et Rasch, Myriam, Unlike us reader: social media monopolies and their alternatives, Amsterdam, Institute of Network cultures.

Le Crosnier, Hervé (2015), En-communs : une introduction aux communs de la connaissance, C&F éditions.

Lucarelli, Alberto (2013), « La remunicipalisation de l’eau à Naples : droit à l’eau et théorie juridique des biens communs », Rampedre,

Lussault, Michel (2014), "Hyperspatialité.",, 15.07.2014

Orléan (A.), (dir.), 2004. – Analyse économique des conventions, Paris, Quadrige /PUF, première édition en 1994, 448 p.

Orsi, Fabienne (2013), « Elinor Ostrom et les faisceaux de droits : l’ouverture d’un nouvel espace pour penser la propriété commune », Revue de la Régulation, 14, automne 2013.

Ostrom, Elinor (1990), Governing the commons : the evolution of institutions for collective action, Cambridge UP, 1990 (en français : La gouvernance des biens communs : Pour une nouvelle approche des ressources naturelles, De Boeck, 2010)

Peugeot, Valérie (2013), « Collaborative ou intelligente ? La ville entre deux imaginaires », In Carmes, Maryse et Noyer, Jean-Max, Devenirs urbains, Ed. Mines Paristech.

Rodotà, Stefano (2012) « Il valore dei beni communi », intervention Teatro Valle, 6 janvier 2012

Rosanvallon, Pierre (2011), Refaire société, Collectif La république des idées, éditions du Seuil, 90 pages ; Date de parution : 03/11/2011 ;

Schneider, Elisabeth (2013) Économie scripturale des adolescents : enquête sur les usages de l’écrit de lycéens, Thèse de doctorat en géographie, Université de Caen,

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