Swiss Commons in a European context - Historical forms of sustainability, models for the future?

In Switzerland, commoners' organisations such as corporations of citizens, corporations, bourgeoisies and patriziati own extensive land areas. This is particularly pronounced in the mountain regions, where their ownership of alpine pastures and forests sometimes comprises considerable shares of the cantonal territories. Throughout Switzerland, almost two thirds of alpine pastures and forests are owned by corporations and communities. In addition, as (co-) owners of real estate, tourist facilities, cultural institutions and energy facilities (e.g. hydropower plants, wood heating plants), these organisations are important political and economic actors. Although these newer sources of income generate stable financial returns, many commoners' organisations, especially smaller ones, are under economic pressure as relative prices in alpine farming and forestry have declined sharply since the middle of the 20th century 

Division of the cheese yield on an alp in Justistal, canton Bern. The products from collective alpine farming are distributed among the beneficiaries according to elaborate principles and procedures. From: H. Brockmann-Jerosch: Schweizer Volksleben, Zurich 1929/1931.

Most commoners' organisations have a history dating back to the Middle Ages. They are designed for longevity; sustainability is an integral part and central task of their existence. In view of their long history, they can be described as «laboratories of sustainability» that have helped shape today's rich cultural landscape. In the course of the current debates on the future handling of local resources (Sustainable Development Goals), it is therefore obvious, indeed imperative, to examine them closely as a historical and present-day phenomenon.

The «Allmende» of the Bernese Burgerschaft in the 18th century. Some present-day city quarters as the one of Kirchenfeld, Wankdorf and Wyler can be seen. Ground plan of the city district «untenaus», drawn by J.R. Müller (1797/1798). Bern City Archives.

Switzerland is considered a «commons lab», a state with a high density of different forms of collective resource use due to its federalist structure. Collective ownership is not a Swiss phenomenon, however, but can be found in many European countries.

Assembly of the Korporation Uri in Altdorf at the beginning of May 2019. A corporate citizen makes a verbal motion to the assembly from the podium. This corporation combines traditional rituals with modern management of alps, forests, waters and other resources. It is probably the largest corporation in Switzerland and owns around 70 percent of the land in the canton Uri. Photo: Peter Studer/Pipaluk Minder

Our platform aims to strengthen commons research in Switzerland and to increasingly place it in an international context. In doing so, it is important to us to enter into direct exchange with the commons actors in the sense of a transdisciplinary approach.