Think Like a Commoner

Think Like a Commoner

In our age of predatory markets and make-believe democracy, our troubled political institutions have lost sight of real people and practical realities. But if you look to the edges, ordinary people are reinventing governance and provisioning on their own terms. The commons is arising as a serious, practical alternative to the corrupt Market/State.

The beauty of commons is that we can build them ourselves, right now. But the bigger challenge is, Can we learn to see the commons and, more importantly, to think like a commoner?


The Commons is among the most important and hopeful concepts of our time, and once you’ve read this book you’ll understand why!

—Bill McKibben, author of Deep Economy


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About the Book


  • Introduction
  1. The Rediscovery of the Commons
  2. The Tyranny of the “Tragedy” Myth
  3. Enclosure and the Commons
  4. Enclosures of Public Spaces and Infrastructure
  5. Enclosures of Knowledge and Culture
  6. The Eclipsed History of the Commons
  7. The Empire of Private Property
  8. The Rise of Digital Commons
  9. Many Galaxies of Commons
  10. The Commons as a Different Way of Seeing and Being
  11. The Future of the Commons
  • The Commons, Short and Sweet
  • The Logic of the Market and the Commons
  • Further Reading on the Commons
  • Leading Websites on the Commons
  • Acknowledgments
  • Index
  • About the Author

The biggest “tragedy of the commons” is the misconception that commons are failures — relics from another era rendered unnecessary by the Market and State. Think Like a Commoner dispels such prejudices by explaining the rich history and promising future of the commons — an ageless paradigm of cooperation and fairness that is re-making our world.

With graceful prose and dozens of fascinating examples, David Bollier describes the quiet revolution that is pioneering practical new forms of self-governance and production controlled by people themselves. Think Like a Commoner explains how the commons:

  • Is an exploding field of DIY innovation ranging from Wikipedia and seed-sharing to community forests and collaborative consumption, and beyond;
  • Challenges the standard narrative of market economics by explaining how cooperation generates significant value and human fulfillment; and
  • Provides a framework of law and social action that can help us move beyond the pathologies of neoliberal capitalism.

We have a choice: Ignore the commons and suffer the ongoing private plunder of our common wealth. Or Think Like a Commoner and learn how to rebuild our society and reclaim our shared inheritance. This accessible, comprehensive introduction to the commons will surprise and enlighten you, and provoke you to action.

Investors today are not just buying up nature, they are turning its revenue flows into financial securities, making enclosures permanent and irrevocable. Pages 49-53

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  Futurilla 

About the Author

David Bollier has been exploring the commons as an author, policy strategist, international activist and blogger since the late 1990s. He pursues this work as Director of the Reinventing the Commons Program at the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, and through international collaborations with commons scholars, activists, and policy experts. Bollier's blog and his monthly podcast Frontiers of Commoning, are popular sources of news and commentary about the commons, along with his eleven books on various aspects of the commons. These include The Commoner's Catalog for Changemaking (2021); Free, Fair and Alive: The Insurgent Power of the Commons (2019); Patterns of Commoning (2014); The Wealth of the Commons (2012); Green Governance (2015); Viral Spiral (2008); and Think Like a Commoner.

Bollier founded and edited the website (2003-2010) before co-founding the Commons Strategies Group, an international consulting project that assists the global commons movement. In 2002 he co-founded Public Knowledge, a Washington advocacy organization for the public’s stake in the Internet, telecom and copyright policies. The American Academy in Berlin awarded Bollier the Berlin Prize in Public Policy in 2012 for his work on the commons.

Bollier now works on a variety of commons projects with international and domestic partners, and lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.

The commons is less about ownership as we usually understand it than about stewardship. Ask indigenous peoples if they “own” the land and they will reply that the land owns them. Page 102

Order the Book

Enclosures are a deep imperative of our modern capitalist economy. An incestuous Market/State alliance—not “free markets”—is the order of the day. Page 63

What They’re Saying

Ralph Nader, The Huffington Post

Think Like a Commoner is #1 on Nader’s list of “Ten Books to Provoke Conversation in the New Year.”

“David Bollier is a leading writer and advocate for all those real-life commons -- what we own, from the public lands, public airwaves, online information and local civic assets. He calls the commons a "parallel economy and social order that.... affirms that another world is possible. And more: we can build it ourselves, now.” (December 30, 2013)

ForeWord Reviews 

"Extraordinarily well-structured" 

"Bollier’s explanations, well supported by multiple examples, are so straightforward that even high school students will find this book easy to understand.  As an introduction to a massive topic, this book serves admirably as a quick review, an informative tract, and an appetizer all at once." (Anna Call, February 27, 2014)

STIR magazine (UK) 

"A convincing account of the common as 'an ethic and inner sensibility'...." 

"Bollier synthesizes a diverse body of scholarship ranging from historical studies of medieval enclosures and contemporary land grabs, behavioural studies, orthodox and heterodox economic theories of value, legal studies of property, governance studies, [and more]....Mirroring his mastery of the commons scholarship is a remarkable breadth of examples of commoning practices....." (Danijela Dolonec, Group 22 Spring 2014 issue of STIR)


David Bollier at david /at/

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There is a long history of commoners protesting market enclosures — and building innovative new commons. Pages 100 and 126.