Bridging materiality and subjectivity
: a militant research of commons expansion

  • Sergio Ruiz Cayuela

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

Abstract

Capital is reaching its own limits, and the ongoing and forthcoming social struggle will determine
what comes next. A window of opportunity is thus opening to overcome capital as a social relation
and build emancipatory alternatives that put social reproduction at the centre. Commons emerge
as a promising alternative based on value practices such as cooperation, equality and solidarity;
but simultaneously diverse and context dependent. Throughout my doctoral project I have explored
a critical question: how can commons and commoning practices expand in order to bring about an
emancipatory post-capitalist transition? Far from being a mere intellectual concern, I have also
addressed the question from a political perspective, which has led me to apply a militant research
approach. Militant research is a situated and contingent practice that has allowed me to coproduce knowledge from within social struggles. However, it is also a very complex approach
which has forced me to continuously navigate between conflicting positionalities as a militant and a
scholar. The main theoretical foundation of my work lies on the theories of ‘boundary commoning’
and ‘expanding commoning’. Whereas they respectively prioritise materiality and subjectivity, I
argue that both are crucial dimensions in commons expansion, and they need to be addressed
simultaneously. As I have demonstrated, materiality and subjectivity reinforce each other and can
potentially create positive feedback loops that fuel commons expansion. The dual proposal that I
have advanced works as a conceptual model based on my militant experience, but can also be
used as an analytical model, which has allowed me to explore several cases in the United
Kingdom and Catalonia. These have provided empirical evidence that support my argument for
commons expansion, but they have also led me to critical insights about the reproductive urban
commons. I argue that the reproductive urban commons is a category of analysis subject to
specific challenges and holding great transformative potential. Whereas their expansion is
constrained by the particular characteristics of the city, they also have the capacity to build material
autonomy and prefigure emancipatory social relations. As the reproductive urban commons
explored in this doctoral project have proved, a simultaneous concern about materiality and
subjectivity has proved crucial in building a balance between subsistence and openness in the
expansion of the emancipatory commons.
Date of Award2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Coventry University
SupervisorAlex Franklin (Supervisor) & Chiara Tornaghi (Supervisor)

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