Social capital is the currency of informality
This workstream explores urban commons as spaces for social cohesion and nutrition justice. This potential was clearly revealed in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis, when social networks such as community kitchens and savings and credit groups became a primary coping strategy for many.
The concept of commons traditionally refers to nature-based resources, such as forests or fisheries, collectively owned by (indigenous) communities. However, as the discourse has grown over the past decades, it has expanded to include non-material resources and different geographies.
In this context, the concept of urban commons does not refer to a static hub, but describes spaces that are undergoing dynamic processes of "commoning." Urban commons bring together communities of people experiencing intense pressures - such as changing demands on land and exclusion from their livelihoods - to debate, cope, adapt, and steer change towards a better future.
Urban commons include housing projects, social networks, public(or temporarily occupied) spaces, community gardens, Wifi connections, art, and food hubs such as school, saving schemes or community kitchens and gardens. Commons in urban areas emerge in reaction to, and in struggle with multiple factors. They are enacted in densely populated or contested spaces, and shaped by competing financial investments. At their heart, however, they are built around social relationships.
Urban nutrition hubs such as community kitchens and schools can significantly contribute to wellbeing. They not only provide access to healthy, affordable and culturally appropriate foods, but a place where communities seek and gain identity, connection, exchange, and solidarity. Federici (2019) characterises these hubs as places of transformation where the production and processing of food in urban spaces is commonised and organised by a community that equally decides and benefits. She describes the idea of commons as a feminist approach: resistance and reorganisation in times of social injustice and ecological crisis.
Conversely, food commons are predominantly built on the backs of women who carry out the bulk of (unpaid) work, as well as resourcing of community gardens, kitchens
and feeding schemes.
Strengthening voice and agency
Commons are not a thing but social relationships (Federici, 2019)
Against this backdrop, our research explores the potential of urban food initiatives to create more inclusive communities, and ultimately contribute towards transforming local governance. We define the process of "commoning" as the intersection of diverse elements, including resources, people, and the governance process itself. We explore diverse processes of commoning, in which resources are not distributed on the basis of price (market) or regulation (state), but by self-organised communities who negotiate and renegotiate rules for collaboration and sharing. We further unpack the potential of joining up urban nutrition hubs to strengthen community agency, and amplify local voices in political processes. We align ourselves to a definition of agency as “the capacity of individuals and groups to exercise a degree of control over their own circumstances and to provide meaningful input into governance processes” (Clapp et al 2022, 3).
In linking food and nutrition security to agency, we challenge existing assumptions of food access as being predominantly market-orientated. The emergent discourse is therefore about the ways in which food system transformation can work towards increasing access in ways that increases and exercises agency. From a transformation perspective, this work will explore whether community kitchens can help open spaces to re-imagine unjust food systems and unpack power relations that shape urban planning in cities in Africa.
You can access the poster summarizing the findings from the scoping phase here.
Clapp, J., Moseley, W. G., Burlingame, B., & Termine, P. (2021). The case for a six-dimensional food security framework. Food Policy, 102164;
Federici, S., 2019. Re-enchanting the world. Feminism and the Politics of the Commons, Oakland