Common property in the long term:

‘robustness’ and ‘sustainability’

The core of the commoners’ organisations is that they are socially constituted through family in successive generations. This results in long-term continuity' in the collective use of local resources, which goes back to the late Middle Ages. Elinor Ostrom captures the intergenerational perspective of these organisations in the ‘robustness’ described by her famous eight principles. Closely related to this is the long-term concept of‘sustainability'’, which focuses more on the concrete forms of use. Over the centuries, either explicit or implicit sustainability was implemented towards different goals depending on the changing energy ages (see Chapter 2).

In the ‘agrarian society’ — until the middle of the nineteenth century - collective forests and pastures were regulated as contested local resources. In all case study regions, the main focus was on the supply of the entitled commoners with these resources. Hintersassen (underprivileged residents), who were allowed to use the collective resources only to a limited extent or not at all, were excluded. It corresponds to the primacy of exclusive needs of the commoners that the resale of products from the common forests (building and firewood, litter, charcoal, etc.) was forbidden, trade with rights of use (cow rights, common litter, etc.) limited to the circle of those entitled and summering rights dependent on the livestock number that could be fed throughout the winter. These regulations did not imply an absence of the market, however. In many places, supra-regional economic interdependencies can be seen from the beginning, which decisively shaped the commoners’ economy. The formation of the commoners’ organisations in Chur, Sarnen and Uri was determined by' the commercialisation of cattle farming, which resulted from intensified cattle trade with the towns in Northern Italy; the economy of the citizens of Chur throughout the Early Modem Period was as much characterised by transit traffic as that of Uri’s corporation; migration movements affected the commoners’ economy' in both Uri (temporary' mercenary services) and Olivone (temporary' labour migration). The commoners’ economy was based everywhere on the interplay of collective and private property. This is particularly striking in the Trattweide (common pasture) practiced in all the study regions, which temporarily opens up private areas to collective use in spring and autumn.

In the ‘industrial society’ — from the middle of the nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century — the operational goals for collective forests and pastures mostly shifted from natural supply to financial yield. With the help of scientific principles, technical innovations and a better transport infrastructure, attempts were made to increase productivity and bring it closer to the maximum sustainable yield. Directives were given by the incipient national agricultural, forestry and environmental policy, which involved several levels (legislation, financial support, training). The Schweizerischer Forstverein and the Schweizerischer Alpwirtschaftlicher Verein played important roles as mediators; the latter awarded prizes for exemplary modernised alpine management. The aim was also achieved by draining collective wetlands (Chur, Uri, Samen). The limited circle of users was expanded by partially converting rights of use into social open systems of use based only on financial compensation (lease systems). The resulting increase in financial returns from collective resources played an important role in the realisation of social, cultural and infrastructural modernisation in the municipalities, and was particularly prominent in Chur.

The onset of the ‘consumption society’ — from the middle of the twentieth century - began an economic growth process on the basis of mass imports of crude oil at a comparatively cheap price. The yields achieved both in forestry and alpine farming were increasingly unable to keep up with the rising extraction costs. This fundamental change in relative prices, which was accompanied by other dimensions of change in the ‘consumption society’, such as mass mobility and mass tourism, had a major impact on the sustainability goals for the collective resources. There was a trend towards polarity of use. On the one hand, further intensification took place through improved transport infrastructure, machine use, fertiliser management and the targeted selection of varieties. Due to the high investment costs, however, intensification was increasingly concentrated on topographically favourable areas (e.g. Chur alps in Arosa). On the other hand, the changed conditions of the ‘consumption society’ led to the abandonment of land use in less favourably situated areas (e.g. Olivone and Val d’Anniviers), resulting in the reforestation of pastureland. The effect of external political factors on collective resources in this polarised use was ambivalent. The state supports the continuation of alpine farming and forestry through contributions for protection forests and alpine summering, but the state also supports biodiversity, natural forests and protected areas (e.g. mire landscapes). The latter subsidies aim at reducing the intensity of use. The commoners’ organisations have already opened themselves to this shift in sustainability goals, from economic production management to the manifold ecosystem services in their forestry, but less so in their alpine economy (e.g. Chur). While these last aspects can be contextualised as within the ‘age of ecology’ (since the 1970s), the following change, on the other hand, can be fully understood with the logic of the ‘consumption age’: the expansion to new forms of returns from collective resources such as real estate and tourism has largely been completed in most of the case study organisations.

This sequence of the three energy ages, however, which is at the origin of the change in the sustainability goals in collective resources, is only one level of the long-term perspective. Another level involves the social groups and their organisational form as owners of the collective forests and pastures. Their chronological sequence, divided into ‘foundation’ in the Late Middle Ages, ‘consolidation’ in the Early Modern Period, ‘transformation’ in the nineteenth century and ‘new roles’ in the twentieth century, is not synchronic with that of the energy ages.

Commoners’ organisations were and are complex social structures in which the interests of different social classes and milieus have clashed and had to be balanced since their foundations. Far into the period of their ‘new role’ in the twentieth century, local elites were involved in the management of common goods and used them to secure their social influence. The fact that the commoners’ organisations in the nascent federal state were able to maintain their position as public-law institutions alongside the municipalities so well, was due in part to the political weight of these elites in the period of their ‘transformation’ in the nineteenth century. It is therefore important not to see commoners’ organisations per se as the antithesis of rule, that is, as quasi ‘bottom-up movements’ that opposed a ‘top-down style of rule’. Rather, they were organisations that sought to position themselves in the local or regional structures of rule with their own claim to power. This claim can be seen, for example, in the inclusion and exclusion mechanisms with which the commoners’ organisations attempted to regulate their own groups of people. The many examples of legal discrimination against non-citizens show that they succeeded in regulating them over a long period of time. However, it is also evident that the boundaries between inclusion and exclusion shifted over the centuries. The graded restrictions of use for Hintersassen during the ‘consolidation’ period in the Early Modern Period and the long struggle of the Niedergelassenen for political equality in the ‘transformation’ period in Chur indicates that the line between being entitled and not entitled needs to be further researched.

Even if commoners’ organisations are to be understood as entities that integrated different social strata, they were not able to homogenise the differences between these strata. On the contrary, they were strongly influenced by the tensions and conflicts that resulted from this. Livestock owners and non-livestock owners, heavy livestock farmers and small-scale livestock farmers — to name but two examples — had different interests of use. The higher the pressure of use due to population growth or market demands the greater the need for regulation and the more important the decision-making mechanisms. A decisive characteristic of commoners’ organisations is their political culture, which shapes the way they deal with internal conflicts and, more generally, the way they shape debates. In our case studies we find references to this debate culture in the Schmdhsonntag (reviled Sunday) of Chur, the Halhjahreskilchgang in Sarnen, or in the Landsgemeinde of Uri - forums where the social order could be negotiated at least symbolically, and always with precautions to reduce the potential for violence that went hand in hand with social differences.

One of Elinor Ostrom’s principles describes the embedding of common property institutions in a setting of different organisations as a prerequisite for their robustness. In fact, such settings can be found in all case studies examined, whether several organisations who constitute a locality' like Sarnen or a region as a ‘commons landscape’ like the Val d'Anniviers or the Valle di Blenio, or an organisation such as the Korporation Uri, which is divided into different suborganisations. Organisational interdependence is therefore an essential element in the history of these organisations. The political map was not stable, especially in the period of their ‘foundation’ in the Late Middle Ages, but also in the period of‘consolidation’ in the Early Modern Period, and demanded constant adaptation. In the course of the ‘transformation’ period during the nineteenth century, the setting was expanded by the units of the nation state: the Confederation, the cantons and the municipalities. They have since become the politically dominant organisations with which the commoners’ organisations have to come to terms. However, even if the dominance of these state actors has made commoner’s organisations less influential — for example, in the loss of responsibility' for the care of the poor - they have by no means become obsolete, at least as far as the management and regulation of their territory is concerned. As landowners in the cases studied, they have succeeded in positioning themselves as relevant organisations in land policy in the period of their ‘new roles’ in the twentieth century - for example in the tourist infrastructure of the Val d’Anniviers or on the Chur alps in Arosa. The negotiations between the federal and cantonal representatives and the corporation representatives in Sarnen on mire landscape protection also show that the state authorities are dependent on the commoners’ organisations when it comes to enforcing land-use regulations. Political interdependence is and remains for commoners’ organisations a balancing act between competition and demarcation on the one hand, and cooperation and complementarity' on the other.

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