The Mice in the Ceiling: Musings on the Limits of Privatization

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Deborah A Jones


Abstract: Commons are often portrayed as sprawling natural or intellectual resources whose vastness defies ownership. However, the urban built environment contains many shared spaces – courtyards, hallways, or even the gaps between floors and ceilings – that function as very small commons.  In this essay I turn privatized, Soviet-era apartment blocks inside out to examine the shared spaces within them.  I conclude that rather than merely working as buffers between neatly delineated chunks of ‘the private,’ small commons serve as the glue that ensures the structural and social cohesion of the building, and the value of individual apartments.  This essay provides a mouse-sized counterpoint to the larger and more expansive commons discussed in literature on enclosure and access.  ‘Thinking small’ forces us to reimagine what a ‘common might look like, and focus on how people interact in or with commons, rather than merely take from them.

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Notes from the Field