Digital commons for the ecological transition: Promises, practices and policies

Sébastien Broca, Angela Daly, Mathieu O'Neil, Sébastien Shulz

    Research output: Contribution to conference (non-published works)Paper

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    The ‘double’ – digital and ecological – transition keeps being talked about, yet the environmental footprint of digital technologies has not diminished. Can the climate disaster and the erosion of biodiversity truly be reversed within digital capitalism? Mobilizations at the intersection of the Internet, the social economy and environmental activism denounce the profit maximization and financialization which prevent large firms from developing sustainable digital technologies. Digital commons are then advanced as alternatives prefiguring an ecological and post-capitalist future, based on self-management and common ownership of the means of production. Digital commoners advocate the use of free and open source software to enhance the sustainability of computing devices (e.g., Fairphone). They develop open and collaborative databases (e.g., Open Street Map), which can help govern and evaluate the ecological transition. Finally circular economy and/or degrowth principles can inform the deployment of cooperative platforms (e.g., Mobicoop) and of distributed manufacturing in ‘makerspaces’. However these digital commons solutions face four major challenges: their ecological production partly relies on unsustainable Big Tech products; digital capitalism has integrated their critique of intellectual property rights, whilst maintaining its hyper-productivist accumulation regime; their political support is negligible, which in turn affects their capacity to scale up. Our proposed contribution is to provide a response to these contradictions. We combine three research methods: first, we analyse a ‘grey literature’ corpus that gathers critiques formulated by the digital commons movement against the capitalist mode of production; second, we conduct an ethnography, via observations and interviews with members of two collectives that use digital commons for the ecological transition, Framasoft and Mobicoop; third, we develop an action-research program, in line with our participation in the Digital Commons Policy Council and the Société des Communs, and conduct an exploratory co-construction of strategic campaigns and public policies favourable to the digital commons. Our goal is ultimately to develop tools to augment, and metrics to measure, the expansion of digital commons, in the context of the colossal socio-economic challenges imposed by the global ecological catastrophe.  
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages17
    Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Jun 2023
    Event International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR): Challenges for media, communication and beyond - Lyon, Lyon, France
    Duration: 9 Jul 202313 Jul 2023


    Conference International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR)
    Abbreviated titleIAMCR 2023
    Internet address


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