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Title: Tools to create agency at Portland Works : the craft of Commoning
Author: Udall, Julia
ISNI:       0000 0004 5921 6893
Awarding Body: University of Sheffield
Current Institution: University of Sheffield
Date of Award: 2015
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This thesis is concerned with the tools required to produce Agencies of Commoning in a community of makers whose future was under threat from speculative redevelopment. The focus of this study, the Grade II* listed Portland Works is home to artists, musicians, metal workers, carpenters and hackers. In response to the threat of closure and the landlord’s intention to turn it into flats, over 500 people, including myself, came together to purchase the Works in order to continue it as a place of making. Implementing an Asset Lock that prevents it being demutualised and sold for profit, tenants, shareholders and volunteers run it for the benefit of the community, developing cultural, educational and manufacturing business activities. Drawing on the context of craftsmanship at Portland Works, I consider how the tools we developed enabled us to achieve and understand the social, political, democratic, economic and pedagogical agencies required to gather and form a community, produce and sustain a set of non-commodified resources and engage in the ‘Commoning’ processes of learning and democracy. ‘Tools’ frequently occur in research into Commons and participatory spatial practices, however in both activist and academic contexts there is little examination of what a tool is beyond that it is linked to action. In addressing the questions of what tools are, how they produce agencies, and the kinds of agencies that are required for Commoning, I make an original contribution to knowledge. Through actively participating in the co-design and co-production of a number of tools at Portland Works, including collaborative mapping, I explore design as distributed agency, bringing together the human and non human in the production of change. I argue that through the production of and reflection upon ‘tools’ a collective and nuanced understanding of the agencies required for commoning in this context can be produced. In suggesting in this thesis that Portland Works is an Urban Commons I am arguably making a bold claim. Not everyone involved in its production would necessarily recognise the term, or see it as such. Some would not show interest in this this as an idea, and perhaps others would disagree with it, at least as being a driver of the project. Those involved come from a range of political standpoints, social values, and concerns. But this is why I think it is of interest and worthy of academic investigation. Commons are not out-of-reach utopias, planned carefully beforehand by a homogenous group of people who understand in theoretical terms exactly what it is they should do, which tools to make and use, and which investigations they need to undertake in order to stake out their claims. Instead, they are something that is made through doing with others, sometimes falteringly, and always experimentally. The situation of being actively involved enables me to develop knowledge in this case. Through my involvement from the first days of the Change of Use planning application that would have seen many businesses close, through to Portland Works purchase, repair and development, the aim of my participatory research has been to take part in, support, challenge, critique, extend and at times, valorise our actions. Ten of those involved in saving Portland Works also took part in a collaborative mapping process that forms a key part of this research. In using this meta-tool we collectively recorded over 170 tools for Commoning. Their breadth and diversity tell of the massive mutual undertaking of those engaging in a diverse and creative socio-pedagogical process, leading to the transformation of a small part of the city, and those who have taken part in its remaking. The telling of the story enables a critical exploration of the tools required for communities to come together to safeguard their assets in ways that are equitable, just, sustainable and in solidarity with those holding similar concerns.
Supervisor: Petrescu, Doina ; Tyszczuk, Renata Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available