DOI: 10.1215/22011919-10422344 ISSN: 2201-1919

A Commons beyond the Human

Yanbing Er
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Anthropology
  • Ecology


This article critiques current theories of the commons as having been produced and sustained by human-centered paradigms of intellectual reasoning. It develops a commons beyond the human in response, which offers another way to envisage the commons and its pledge to the construction of better, alternate futures. Rather than advance yet another definition of the commons, this article examines how its means of knowledge production might ensue differently by dislocating the concept from its existing points of epistemological orientation. At the heart of this inquiry lies an attempt to rethink the commons concept beyond its regulating logics of liberal humanism, a radical reconsideration of the kinds of politics it should and might still enable beyond the lure of progressive reason. Turning to a reading of Alexis Wright’s 2013 novel The Swan Book, the article argues that a commons beyond the human gathers in the text through the more-than-human existence engendered between a young Aboriginal girl, Oblivia, and a flock of black swans. The novel presents neither the disavowal of the inherited knowledges of the commons nor a concrete policy to herald its appearance in a conjectural future, but a critical expansion of its transitive acts of worlding. This is made feasible by its insistence on upholding an Indigenous Australian ontological reality as the structuring provision for its narratives—one that has long stressed its dissonance from dominant Western genres of thinking and being.

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