Collective Dynamics of Development Processes


A Common Good Approach to Development

Collective Dynamics of Development Processes

Edited by Mathias Nebel, Oscar Garza-Vazquez

and Clemens Sedmak

OpenBook Publishers


© 2022 Mathias Nebel, Oscar Garza-Vazquez and Clemens Sedmak. Copyright of individual chapters is maintained by the chapters’ authors.

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Mathias Nebel, Oscar Garza-Vazquez and Clemens Sedmak (eds). A Common Good Approach to Development: Matrix and Metric for a Collective Development Processes. Cambridge, UK: Open Book Publishers, 2022, https://doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0290

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Cover image: Cuetzalan, Puebla (2008). Photo by Oscar Garza-Vazquez. Cover design by Anna Gatti



Introduction Mathias Nebel and Oscar Garza-Vazquez


Introduction to Part I

Mathias Nebel and Oscar Garza-Vazquez

1. The Theoretical Framework: Common Goods and Systems of Common Goods Mathias Nebel

2. From Theory to Practice: A Matrix of Common Good Dynamics Mathias Nebel and Jorge Medina Delgadillo

3. Design and Reflection on the Metric of Common Dynamics

Oscar Garza-Vazquez and Viviana Ramirez


Introduction to Part II

Mathias Nebel and Oscar Garza-Vazquez

4. Collective Agency Freedom as the Engine of a Common Good Dynamic: A Conceptual Proposal for Measurement Oscar Garza-Vazquez

5. The Systemic Outcome of Common Good Dynamics: Humanity

Clemens Sedmak











vi A Common Good Approach to Development

6. Governance, Commoning and the Unequal Terms of Recognition Tom De Herdt and Denis Augustin Samnick

7. Organising Common Good Dynamics: Justice Rodolfo De la Torre

8. Development and Stability Flavio Comim

PART III: CASE STUDIES AND APPLICATIONS Introduction to Part III Mathias Nebel and Oscar Garza-Vazquez

9. Do We Need a Common Good Approach to Development? Helen Alford

10. Bangsamoro: A Case Study in Governing for the Common Good Patrick Riordan S.J.

11. Assessing the Nexus of the Common Good: The Case of the Municipality of Atlixco, Mexico Valente Tallabs and Mathias Nebel

12. Assessing the Transformative Impact of Love-Based Microsocial Communities: From Existential Peripheries into the Nexus of the Common Good Simona Beretta

List of Illustrations Index




273 275





379 385


This book is the result of a research process that involved many people over four years. We want to express here our gratitude to the friends and colleagues as well as the institutions that made this journey possible. First we would like to thank all the authors that took part in this project for their excellent contributions contained in this volume. This book would not be possible without your commitment, patience, and dedication throughout this process. Each one of you made this project better. We also must acknowledge our debts to the local research group based in Puebla, Mexico. Thank you Antonio Sanchez, Jorge Medina, Valente Tallabs, Ignacio Arbesu, Juan Pablo Aranda, Roy Nufiez, José Luis Avila, Juan Martin Castro, Maria del Rosario Andrade, and Viviana Ramirez for the many, many hours of debate and discussion that gave way to the matrix and metrics of common good dynamics. This time of academic friendship was precious and your insights invaluable. Similarly, we would like to thank the many researchers that took part in one or more of the three research seminars in Puebla, Barcelona, and Notre Dame between 2017 and 2018. Again, to be able to share and debate very widely the ideas shaping this book ensured not only its coherence but also the academic quality of each part. Thank you especially to Oscar Martinez Martinez (REMIPSO’s President), Roberto Vélez Grajales (CEEY’s Executive Director), Graciela Teruel Belismelis (EQUIDE’s Director), Gerardo Leyva Parra (INEGI’s Research Director) and Luis Felipe Lopez-Calva (UNDP Regional Director for Latin-America) for their illuminating comments. Finally, we would like to express our appreciation to the two anonymous reviewers. Their helpful comments helped us improve the overall structure of the book and gave us the opportunity to clarify further the main arguments in it.

Then, we are also in debt with institutions: first the Universidad Popular Autonoma del Estado de Puebla (UPAEP) and its Instituto Promotor del Bien

viii A Common Good Approach to Development

Comin (IPBC). They were the ultimate driver of this journey, granting the needed funds for our research. Thank you also to the University of Notre Dame and its Center for Social Concern, and to the Institut Quimic de Sarria at Universitat Ramon Llull for hosting one of the three research seminars. Thank you also to Elizabeth Rankin for her thorough proof- reading and suggestions to several of the chapters in this book. Likewise, thanks to Andrea Cuspinera for her technical assistance in the final steps of the book edition. Finally, we would like to express our appreciation to Open Book Publishers for making the whole publishing experience as efficient and agreeable as it can be (thank you Alessandra Tossi, Melissa Purkiss, Anna Gatti, and Luca Baffa).


Mathias Nebel and Oscar Garza-Vazquez

1. The Research Question

‘[A] misconceived theory can kill’, wrote Amartya Sen more than two decades ago (1999, p. 209). Certainly, the terrible (and unequal) human cost of the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated crushing economic impact, which has pushed thousands of people into subsistence levels (or worse), painfully reminds us that the ideas we use to organise our societies can result in an unbearable toll of human lives. We could also consider the millions of lives that are threatened everyday by injustices such as extreme poverty, rampant inequality, discriminatory practices; the continuing deterioration of natural life due to our climate irresponsibility; and the disproportionate burden that populist rhetoric, technocratic recommendations, ‘development’ policies, and power imbalances, pose for many. In line with Sen’s quote, our failure to address the systemic and interdependent nature of all these concerns threatening our common humanity does suggest that our current development thinking does not seem to be fit for purpose. Yet, this rather crude and dismal verdict should not be one of defeat, but one of hope. We may change and enrich mainstream ideas about development or envision new ones to face our current social ailments and procure a better future for all (see Chapter 9). This is what this book is about.

It proposes an alternative way of assessing our social realities that we conceive as ‘a common good approach to development’. We certainly maintain that development is about people, and about how each person is able to live, but we contend that it is also—and more importantly for

© 2022 Nebel and Garza-Vazquez, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 https: //doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0290.16

2 A Common Good Approach to Development

today’s problems—about how we are able to live together with others. It is about cooperation, about the common goals that we pursue together and about the kind of social life that we are constantly creating and sustaining. In a nutshell, our approach to development is about how systems of commons are generated and maintained over time.

Thecommon good traditions are multifarious.' For centuries they were the main frameworks for understanding social processes and shaping policies. As an architectonic concept, the common good articulated the practice of government, law, tax administration, and merchant guilds, as well as monastic communities. The concept was not considered theoretical, but rather practical. It was a way to understand and govern the many ‘commons’ around which societies gathered. Gradually, the emergence of the modern state, coupled with the shift toward social contract theories, displaced the concept to the sidelines of political philosophy and of development thinking—so much so that today the notion of the common good appears to most people as outdated, fuzzy, and ambiguous, and certainly not something that would help us move toward a more efficient development practice. It is this understanding that our book wants to challenge. It focuses on the practical relevance that a common good perspective can have for development issues.

Our research question is quite straightforward: How can we assess and measure common good dynamics? This question obviously involves several others: What do we understand by ‘common goods’? Is it meaningful to adopt a common good perspective on development? Should we really add a new metric to the ever-growing list of development indicators? What are we really looking for through a common good indicator, and what advantages can we expect from such a perspective? This book can’t possibly answer all these questions and does not pretend to do so. It rather starts a discussion we hope may lead to new insights in questions of development, both from a theoretical and from a practical perspective. In particular, we defend a common good approach that aims at assessing the quality of a given system of common goods what we call ‘the nexus of common goods’—at the local level.

1 The historical development of the notion is now better understood than previously, see for example, Kempshall (1999), Hibst (1991), Lecuppre-Desjardin and Van Bruaene (2010).

Introduction 3

This book is the result of a research project that has spanned over four years, gathering together a group of international researchers to try to build both a robust matrix and a metric of common good dynamics. The Instituto Promotor del Bien Comtin (IPBC) at the UPAEP University (Puebla, Mexico) founded the project. The IPBC is a research institute dedicated to the notion of the common good and furthering the capability to use the concept as a robust analytical tool. The UPAEP officially launched this effort in December 2017, and three research seminars took place in Puebla, Barcelona, and Notre Dame between December 2017 and October 2018. Each meeting gathered around twenty-five invited scholars to work on the design of a matrix of common good dynamics. An IPBC discussion paper would focus the debate during the two-day seminars and lead to a revised proposal for the next one. In February 2019, a first version of the matrix and metric of common good dynamics was presented at an international conference organised by the UPAEP (a revised version of it provides the content of Chapter 2). In the following months, the IPBC research team came up with a questionnaire, which was discussed in regular meetings of the local committee, tested during cognitive interviews, and verified in a pilot project involving 180 residents of Atlixco, Mexico, in May 2019 (see Chapter 3). The questionnaire was then duly revised and successively applied in three municipalities between July and December 2019. The results of these empirical applications were published in the form of a special issue on the common good approach at the end of 2020 (Rivista Internazionale di Scienze Sociali). In contrast, the content of this book investigates the theoretical and practical foundations of our common good approach and discusses its expediency for development topics.

The book is divided in three parts. Part I presents the conceptual framework that the IPBC proposes for operationalising a common good approach to development. This theoretical part introduces and justifies the rationale of a matrix of common good dynamics composed of five key normative drivers (collective agency, justice, stability, governance, and humanity) (Chapters 1 and 2). It then presents a possible metric for capturing common good dynamics in municipalities and considers the extent to which this can give us an edge in policy-making and governance (Chapter 3). This conceptual framework serves as the backbone of the book, with all other contributors referring to it. In Part II

4 A Common Good Approach to Development

several scholars of different academic backgrounds discuss how each of the five elements composing the common good matrix can be justified, enriched or criticised from their own discipline (Chapters 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8). Finally, Part III explores the relevance of a common good approach through different case studies (Chapters 9, 10, 11, and 12).

The uniting theme throughout the book is the shared recognition of the need to devise an alternative framework to understand the interdependency of our lives, the collective nature of the social world in which we experience our lives, and the transformatory potential of human cooperation. Given the rich interdisciplinary outlook on these urgent matters, this book should be of interest to a wide audience dealing with development issues. Despite its strong theoretical orientation, we believe this book to be equally relevant for academics and researchers involved with development issues, as for practitioners and policy- makers looking for a new approach to inform their actions.

2. Why Do We Need a Common Good Approach?

The world as we ‘knew’ it is no longer the same. The COVID-19 pandemic came to disrupt our everyday reality and its apparent normality. It unveiled the social structures and collective dynamics that underlie the functioning of what seems to be the natural order of the world. It revealed that our societies are built around some essential goods, and it forced nations and individuals out of their illusion of autonomy towards a recognition of our radical interdependency. It awoke our dormant sense that something was wrong with our beloved normality, an awareness of our unpreparedness to face the challenges of an interconnected world, and the need to recognise our shared social reality.

Throughout our recent history, we have been told an incomplete story about who we are, about how the world works, and about how we ought to solve humanity’s problems (Bruni 2008). This is a story that starts and ends with individuals. It starts by conceiving of people as individuals whose interest can be reduced to their own self-interest, who live in a world of—and ignited by—individual competition, and whose common problems (including the satisfaction of individual human needs) are solved mainly through market interaction and individual efforts. Distilled from this individualistic outlook, social progress was thought

Introduction 5

of as an increase in individual achievements, usually aggregated at a certain moment in time (either in terms of income, resources, utility, freedoms, rights, etc.). Social progress and development were to be measured as an increase in the autonomy of individuals.

In this fictitious world, the common good rhetoric tends to disappear. Even inherently collective goods are thought to be better appraised— so the argument goes—through the language of individual human rights. Social choice theories replaced the common good discourses in development economics, with the provision and distribution of public goods becoming the main concern, while in general the focus of political philosophy and public discourse shifted toward procedural justice and liberal democracy.

Of course, this is an oversimplification. But it highlights the fact that this dominant narrative curtails part of who we are as human beings, of our common life, of the collective goods we produce and enjoy together, and of our belonging and interdependency. We are also social / relational beings who care, share, interact, and cooperate with others. We define who we are, and experience wellbeing, in relationships. We inhabit a social world, we belong to groups, we share identities and goals with others; our whole existence as individuals is embedded in a web of collectively-generated meanings, values, and goods. Even market production is a collective enterprise, which is in turn embedded in an institutional arrangement of formal and informal institutions (e.g., judicial systems to enforce contracts, property rights, reputational effects, coordination and routines between economic agents, social norms, etc.).

These are all relational and common goods which are central to the dynamics of our social reality and to development processes. The effect of omitting these elements from the story goes beyond a simple misrepresentation of human life. It limits our capacity to fully grasp the nature of a true human development, and more importantly, it limits our way of thinking about how we do development (e.g., see Andreoni et al. 2021). Hence, although there are excellent reasons to account for individual goals of development, the narrow individualistic approach has non-negligible shortcomings. It fails to tell us anything about how and why development happens, and thus about how to solve our common problems. This would require an understanding (1) of the commonality

6 A Common Good Approach to Development

of meanings, (2) of common behaviour and shared practices—the way people cooperate and coordinate to produce something collectively— and (3) of the interdependent and systemic nature of results.

(1) Commonality of meanings. As early as 1983, criticising John Rawls’ Theory of Justice (1971)—one of the main theoretical arguments along the mainstream line of thought in justice and development— Michael Walzer (1983) highlighted the importance of collective goods. According to Walzer, the production and distribution of any social good entails a preexisting shared understanding of the value of this good by the community involved. In India, for example, beef can’t be produced and distributed in the same way as in the United States. The communal meaning given by the Hindu faith to animals—and especially to cows— does not allow it. Good distribution is embedded in the historical reality of a living community and heeds the social meaning of the good itself. That is, development goals are only common goals as long as they build upon the shared meaning and value given to some social goods.

(2) Common behaviour and shared practices. Elinor Ostrom’s pioneering work (1990) revealed the ubiquitous existence of commons such as collective pasture grounds, irrigation systems, or cooperative fisheries, whose sustainable efficient management could not be properly understood from a self-maximising individual rationality. Her work made clear that the economic dichotomy between state and market— between public goods provided by state institutions and private goods produced by a free market economy—was definitively too narrow. We were missing something important, namely the strength and capacities of civil society, the social capital imbedded in society (Putnam 2000; for an overview of social capital theories, see Joonmo 2020). The very existence of these common pool resources implied some forms of collective collaboration framing competitive individual behaviours so that they may not threaten the very existence of the common pool resource (Ostrom 1990, pp. 8-17). Indeed, commons are frameworks of governance mechanisms, rules, and roles commonly agreed upon and collectively managed. They set the ground for economic behaviours that allow for a sustainable use of the common-pool resource by all and its preservation for future generations.

All in all, Ostrom’s work pointed toward our obliviousness and ignorance of the many practices of commoning existing in our societies.

Introduction 7

How do commons arise in a society? How can they be sustained? How do they change and adapt through power struggles? How do we ‘do’ commons? These are no trivial questions limited to local pastures and fisheries, but also relevant queries for global issues like climate change, education, or human development.

Climate change may indeed serve as an example to illustrate the two previous points. Part of the difficulty in addressing this urgent matter is that the international community needs to agree not only on the goals and procedural elements of a technical solution to CO, emissions, but on the very meaning and value of the environment. The latter is not a question that can be sidelined forever, for it is precisely the meaning and value given to the environment that commands the very social practice sustaining the constant increase of CO, emissions. If climate change has to be effectively addressed, it necessarily entails a change of our social and economic practice, which in turn means that we will need to review the way we collectively conceive of and value the environment. Let us stress this point: It is we who have become acutely aware that our patterns of production and consumption must change if we want to avoid a catastrophic increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

(3) Interdependence and systemic nature of results. The previous example puts into sharp relief the systemic and interconnected nature of our lives. For climate change unveils first that our freedom is not an individual trait at all: it is a shared good. We are not safe until everyone is safe. Our life depends on others and the lives of others depend on us, literally. Fighting climate change requires us to reconsider the way we behave collectively, that is, how we enter into institutionalised cooperation with others. What is more, climate change is not a challenge that can be resolved without at the same time considering other social issues. We certainly need to address it, but without undermining other commons, such as the economy, human rights and freedoms, or solidarity. Likewise, it also implies that we cannot pretend to offer a proper solution to a specific problem if we isolate it from the multiple factors that—in conjunction— produce a certain result. As Beretta and Nebel recognise (2020), it is not enough to acknowledge the multidimensionality of development through a list of goals or objectives, we also need to understand how these interrelate as an ‘integrated process of this multidimensionality’. Development is a systemic, ‘dynamic process unfolding in time and

8 A Common Good Approach to Development

space. It cannot be reduced to checking whether basic preconditions are in place, nor to measuring achievements on a predefined list of desirable outcomes.’ (both quotes p. 372; emphasis in original).

Models based on aggregated individual rationalities are not well equipped to account for the social, interconnected world in which we live. Crucially, they cannot provide proper solutions to real-world problems and more often than not have ‘unforeseen’ and ‘unintended’ adverse effects (Tirole 2016). We need therefore new ideas to guide our actions. Neither the states, nor markets, nor the international community have been able to give a convincing answer to this necessary change of social and economic practice. We think that a common good perspective is not only pertinent, but may hint at another model of society, another way to understand development. In particular, the common good approach we advance takes up these points: that questions of justice and development are linked to the meaning and the shared value given to social goods; we understand development as a process embedded in communities and in how people produce and distribute social goods like security, education, and mobility.

Thus, the common good approach we defend here focuses on the processes through which local communities create and maintain a specific set of social or ‘common goods’. It understands these goods as irreducible social goods. As Taylor (1990) argues, these are good that are immanent to the cooperation of people in a community; immanent to collective organisation that allows the achievement of a social good; immanent to the shared understanding of their value. However, taking the local community as the locus of the development process does not mean that a common good approach sacrifices the universal to the particular. Rather, such an approach understands the universal common good as a dialectic that progressively sees the many systems of common goods becoming larger in scope and deeper in humanity, in an eschatological hope that the universal common good can be real and possible.? Similarly, we will sustain that the three features

2 The French Jesuit Gaston Fessard (1944) introduced three distinctions in the vocabulary of the common good that have inspired most of the reflections in this book. Fessard distinguishes between the ‘good of a community’ (le bien de la communauté), the ‘community of the good’ (la communauté du bien) and the ‘good of communion’ (bien de la communion), which is the universal and eschatological

Introduction 9

identified above underlie any development dynamics at any level (from household dynamics, organisations, communities, states, nations, to global issues). Wherever there are people interacting with each other to produce something—as is the case in every development process— these elements are present to a greater or lesser degree. Each of these processes implies a shared background of action, a coordination and cooperation, and an interdependency.

Therefore, the question of the commons and how we produce, sustain, and govern them is one of the crucial questions of the twenty- first century. We can state it this way: while the twentieth century focused on the protection of individual rights and capabilities, the big challenge of the twenty-first century may well be communal life. How can we build a shared, common, human future for all? This seems to us a sufficiently important question to dedicate a book to.

3. ACommon Good Approach to Development. Where Do We Stand?

The notion of the common good is enjoying a kind of resurrection. It almost died out, suffering constant decline during the nineteenth century and a brutal rejection after the sixties. The notion however now finds itself back at the forefront of discussions. We may quote, among others, the works of Michael Sandel (2020), Alain Badiou (2019), Robert Reich (2019), Daniel Finn (2017), Jean Tirole (2016), Christian Blum (2015), Catherine Hudak Klancer (2015), Patrick Riordan (2014; 2008; 1996), Hans Sluga (2014), Axel Kahn (2013), Tim Gorringe (2014), Robert K. Vischner (2010), Dennis McCann and Patrick Miller (2005), David Hollenbach (2002), Herfried Munkler and Harald Bluhm (2001-2004), Inge Kaul, Isabelle Grunberg, Marc Stern (1999), and Elinor Ostrom (1990).° Together these authors have decisively added to the sense that the notion of the common good is not only pertinent for the twenty-first century, but that it offers a real and complementary way forward.

common good. He therefore shapes the common good as a dialectical dynamic toward the universal common good (2015, pp. 83-85, 102-105, 123-129).

3 Still very relevant are older thinkers such as Fessard (1944) and Maritain (1949). In addition, a whole set of studies has been dedicated to the history of the notion: Kempshall (1999), Hibst (1991), Lecuppre-Desjardin and Van Bruaene (2010), and Collard (2010).

10 A Common Good Approach to Development

Its revival seems closely linked to three topics: (1) The limits of political liberalism (Blum 2015, pp. 7-9; Hollenbach 2002, pp. 3-16), (2) the definition of new public goods (Kaul et al. 1999, Deneulin and Townsend 2007, pp. 19-36) and the rediscovery of ‘economies of the commons (Felber 2015, Bollier 2003, Bollier and Helfrich 2015, Ostrom 1990), and (3) a need to reassert the goals of governance beyond technical criteria and mere democratic procedures (Crowther et al. 2018, Giguére 2004, Whitman 2009). All in all, it is a pragmatic revival, linked to the preservation or the creation of ‘common goods’ whose social value is essentially intangible, such as health, education, and enjoyment of cultural heritage, wellbeing, or the environment. This is remarkably evident when the World Bank proposes to define good governance as the traditions and institutions by which authority in a country is exercised for the common good (World Bank 2004) or when UNESCO suggests using the paradigm of the common good to understand education (UNESCO 2015).

As we briefly mentioned in the previous section, in her landmark book Ostrom proposes a set of guidelines needed for commons to exist and be sustained. Governing the Commons (1990) is about cooperation to achieve and sustain common pool resources. It is about the agency or freedom of a group. It is about organising this agency through roles, rules, sanctions, and goals. Her work highlighted some key elements for a dynamic of the commons to be sustained over time. While highly focused, her practical research revealed a blind spot in economic and political literature for which she would ultimately be awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2009.*

First, she highlighted the political dimension of the commons, that is, the fundamental decision made about the value of a common (Ostrom 1990, pp. 38-45). The local community would hold ‘in common’ that the pastures, irrigation systems or fisheries had a value that exceeded the private individual interest. It was vital for the community to reach an agreement on the way these resources could be used by all while preserving at the same time their very existence in the long run. Such agreements, held at the local level, are political in nature but eschew the logic of the free market or state institutions. They are agreements

4 See https: //www.nobelprize.org/uploads/2018/06/ostrom_lecture.pdf.

Introduction 11

about the collective meaning and value of commons to each and every member of a community. This process is complex. It entails at least two steps: (1) the determination by a polity about how it understands itself and (2) how it defines legitimate use and handles resources in accordance with this self-understanding.

Second, Ostrom’s work put into sharp relief a ‘world of commoning’ that neither the state nor the market recognised (1990, pp. 7-28). Mainstream conceptions of the polity and the market take the commons as a given, with their existence supposed to be unlimited and stable, like natural resources. Yet the 2008 financial crisis, for example, revealed this notion to be delusional. The crisis shone a light on the fact that financial markets need trust to function but do not produce it themselves. Two major blind spots distorting the lens of modern politics and economics are therefore the understanding of commons as a given and the failure to understand the political dimension of the same.

A wide range of development practices have enthusiastically built on her findings ever since. For example, the World Bank finances the so-called ‘Community-Based or Community-Driven Programs’, which are structured around three elements: (i) adopting processes that strengthen the capacity of a community to organise and sustain development; (ii) supporting community empowerment through user participation in decision-making, and (iii) reversing control and accountability from central authorities to community organisations (Narayan 1995). These Community-Driven Development (CDD) projects are thought to (a) increase the efficiency, cost effectiveness, and sustainability of development projects; (b) increase the empowerment of the local population; and (c) change the behavioural patterns of the population. These three points are intuitively tied together; you can’t achieve results if you don’t get the population to participate in the project, and the project doesn’t last long if consistent patterns of behaviour do not sustain the result.

These efforts already highlight the importance of expanding development thinking to include collective goods and to involve the local community in this process. Yet, while this revival of the commons for development is welcome, it is also problematic: welcome because it proves the practical need for such a notion (as the common good cannot be reduced to individual interest or utility) but problematic

12 A Common Good Approach to Development

because the notion of ‘commons’ is too narrow, and it still lacks a systemic approach.

First, Ostrom’s conception of commons inherited by CDD projects focus on tangible things (e.g., construction of roads, schools, or health clinics, collective resources such as irrigation systems, fisheries, pastures, etc.). However, commons go well beyond these material goods to include intangible goods such as cultural goods, knowledge, language, and the like. We ought therefore to understand commons as a social construct inherently related to the social practice underpinning it (Helfrich 2012). Second, the revival of the commons still lacks an overall coherence that would link specific ‘common goods’ (education, health, governance, etc.) into a system or nexus of common goods. In other words, the dynamic coalescence of common goods into a shared striving for the common good is lacking as these approaches tend to see each common good in isolation, as detached from other social goods and detached from the social structure holding all of them together.

Hence, a common good approach to development (see Chapters 1 and 2) extends previous efforts to revive the commons. It focuses on social action and is radically practical, starting with a community and the common goods it values and produces. It sees development as a process; as a systemic equilibrium of collective values, meanings, and actions embodied in social institutions and social practices that together generate a social dynamic that co-creates and sustains a particular way of social life—this is what we call ‘a nexus of common goods’. Therefore, the approach we investigate here centres mainly on the equilibrium created by that community among the many social goods and tries to capture the way this equilibrium—‘the nexus of common goods’—is generated, maintained, and enriched over time. The research question framing this book is therefore as practical as possible, focusing on the quality of this nexus and the possibilities of assessing it empirically.

4. Does a Common Good Approach to Development Undermines the Plurality of Modern Societies?

Anyone who wishes to advance a common good approach to development faces an uphill battle and must confront a series of widely held assumptions pushing back against any attempt to do so. Some of these objections are justified, other less so. Let’s briefly review some

Introduction 13

of the arguments usually held against the use of the common good language in development studies.

Two major claims are regularly made against revivals of a common good approach. The most usual is that the concept is lofty, mostly rhetorical, and certainly not precise enough to be practicable. It is said to be an empty shell, a meta-discourse used to cover other, usually darker, intentions. What is the common good? Everything and nothing in particular, say skeptics. A concept meant to show that one’s intentions are noble and generous, rather than selfish and self-interested. But then certainly a mere protest of altruistic intentions does not add up to a vision of society or a set of public policies. Thus, to reason on the ground of the common good is at best naive, at worst deceitful—or at least so say the skeptics.

This rhetorical use to justify one’s intentions is well attested and can’t be denied. Most politicians do sooner or later fall into this self-justified protest of altruistic intentions. But this can hardly be considered an argument against the common good. Few words have been more misused by crooked politicians than ‘freedom,’ ‘democracy,’ or ‘solidarity’ but nobody argues in response that the value of such concepts is thus null and void. Misuse by itself is not enough to discard a concept.

A second claim frequently made against the common good is that it is rooted in theology or metaphysics. And according to this argument, this can’t be tolerated anymore. Do we not live in a pluralistic society? Why should we want to relapse to any forms of theocracy? For these critics, to argue from a worldview in which groups and collectivities take a central role is a practical rejection of pluralism. A widespread assumption is that whoever picks up the discourse of the common good is thus trying to impose on the rest of the society a religious or metaphysical view of the good. To defend the pluralism of the public square, to defend both religious minorities and agnostic citizens alike, we therefore ought to avoid a discourse based on the common good, preferring either a Habermassian or Rawlsian approach to democracy.

This whole argument is however based on a double assumption: (1) that any conception of the common good is paramount to a comprenhensive and metaphysical conception of the good; and (2) that liberal views of the polity are free of similar preconceptions and can accommodate pluralistic views of the good. Both statements can be challenged. Nebel (2018) addresses the second claim at length

14 A Common Good Approach to Development

in a previous publication and will not be repeated here, but we will briefly state why our approach does not contradict the pluralism of our societies nor its focus on individual freedom. First, we will propose in Chapter 1 to understand the common good as an open and dialectical political process, inherently plural and conflictual, that requires a constant political debate to discern which commons we may value together and how to achieve them. By differentiating between the universal common good as a normative horizon of politics and the many, complex, and ever-changing historical systems of common goods, we open the space needed for pluralism to exist.

Second, the common good perspective introduced here is as practical as possible. It puts its emphasis on the empirical fact that development outcomes (good or bad) and the social order of a particular society are always the result of social and collectively sustained practices. It is these collective dynamics that the conceptual framework proposed in Chapters 1 and 2 aims to grasp. Bringing these collective processes into our assessment of development need not be incompatible with individual- based notions of development (Chapter 4); it can complement it and render it more truly human—as we briefly argue in the subsection below. Our main interest is to shed light to the common aspect of our social lives—which is often obfuscated in mainstream development literature—and not on a metaphysical good that ought to be pursued universally. The common good perspective developed hereafter, is that there is not a ‘one size fits all’ universal system of common goods, but a necessary and legitimate plurality of common good systems, within the limits of the normative key drivers of common good dynamics.

5. Why Measure Common Good Dynamics?

There is no shortage of metrics that try to measure development. Yet, most development approaches capture development through a list of items for which they provide indicators and metrics relying on individual-level data. These may be the extent to which individuals succeed to satisfy a list of basic needs, human security, capabilities, human rights, or selected features of human flourishing. But most of them focus on either preconditions of wellbeing development or a selected set of achievements or functionings (see Chapter 2 and Chapter 3).

Introduction 15

While a common good approach recognises the need and value of individual-based indicators, we contend that they do not fully explain the social processes involved in development. They leave out the structural dimension of development, i.e., how a social environment shapes these individual functionings or achievements. As mentioned, a growing literature argues that we also need to include group or community data in order to grasp and measure ‘collective achievement’ of goods or services that are essentially ‘shared’ or ‘common.’ Indeed, different approaches to development, including social capital (Putnam 2000), public goods (Kaul et al. 1999), the commons (Ostrom 1990), social rights (Ulrike 2013), and collective capabilities (Ibrahim 2017, Ibrahim 2016), are currently making advances in this direction. Moreover, many development indicators try to capture what are best regarded as collective goods, like health and education, through individual data.

Our approach is different. It adopts the point of view that development is not first and foremost a matter of individuals but of groups, communities, or nations. It is only together that development can be achieved, not only as a means to an end, but as an end in itself; there is no human development without a shared, common development process. Only development attained in common can be truly called human development. Hence, we focus on the commons and the social process through which a community achieves common goods and the way these build up in society to create a system or nexus of common goods. By concentrating on this “common good dynamic’, our aim shifts from focusing on outputs and results (i.e., a set or list of basic common goods) to the social drivers of this dynamic equilibrium.

Indeed, a focus merely on outputs would have led us to verify the delivery of a list of basic common goods and whether or not they exist. While interesting, such an approach fails to answer the why question. Why do precisely this set of common goods exist? Why are they arranged in this specific equilibrium, and not some other one? Why did such dynamic equilibrium emerge, and how is it maintained? The why question is under-addressed in development literature. We are usually much more interested in the provision of specific common goods— education, work, housing, mobility, etc.—leaving open the question of how (and by whom) these specific common goods will be arranged and of how they will work together. Generally, development literature

16 A Common Good Approach to Development

assumes that providing income, housing, education, and health to a population will somehow add up to trigger development and raise people out of poverty. This is rather naive. Complex social systems do not function under a logic of mere aggregation. To tackle the question of how common goods ‘build up’ to form a “nexus of common goods” we have to focus on the process rather than the outputs, on the dynamic of the nexus rather than on its components.

In particular, we focus on the social drivers of this dynamic. Chapters 2 and 3 will argue, as the literature on the commons does, that drivers must include justice, governance, sustainability, and what we can call ‘collective agency freedom’. It will then be argued that the quality of a nexus must allow people to live together as human beings, thus humanity should be recognised as the normative horizon of common good dynamics. This normative horizon is understood here as a set of habitus, describing our shared, common humanity through a set of collective practices. This is not a naive regression to Aristotle, but rather builds on Bourdieu and Giddens’s reciprocity between social structures and practice. Each nexus commands a certain set of habitus, which will allow us to discern if the dynamic is heading toward a more human coexistence, or elsewhere.

6. Structure of the Book

Part I-A Common Good Approach. The first part of the book drafts the theoretical argument on which the matrix and metric of common good dynamics is based (Chapters 1 and 2). It also presents a specific metric of common good dynamics meant for municipalities (Chapter 3). These chapters will be of use for scholars interested in the theoretical background of a common good approach to development. They will however also be of interest to policy-makers and practitioners searching for new ways to address social realities.

Chapter 1 elaborates a possible understanding of a common good for the twenty-first century. Building on Foucault, Arendt, Bourdieu, Giddens, Ostrom, Taylor, and Riordan, Mathias Nebel proposes to understand the common good from the perspective of the interactions structuring our communal life. The chapter borrows from many of the antique and medieval insights into the notion but then reframes

Introduction 17

the concept from the perspective of a philosophy of action, which epitomises the way we approach the concept. The common good is essentially linked to how our social interactions generate and thrive. A common good perspective on society is therefore neither totalitarian, nor conservative as some people assume. On the contrary, it is creative, and capable of novelty and inclusiveness; it embraces not only justice and law, but also the good life (eudzen) as the purpose of politics. For the sake of clarity, the chapter structures its theoretical insights around a