Sustaining the Commons
John Anderies, Arizona State University
Marco Janssen, Arizona State University
Pub Date: 2016
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The text begins with Garrett Hardin’s notion of the tragedy of the commons to situate Elinor Ostrom’s scholarly contributions and ends with read more
The text begins with Garrett Hardin’s notion of the tragedy of the commons to situate Elinor Ostrom’s scholarly contributions and ends with discussions about some of the broadest challenges in the world today (global climate change, large scale governance, technology, and others). In between, the authors covers major frameworks developed by Ostrom and her colleagues (e.g., institutional analysis); major concepts (e.g., rules and norms); game theory relevant to the commons (e.g., prisoner’s dilemma); case studies on water, pasture, and forest governance; lab- and field-based experiments on social dilemmas; and applications for systems thinking, among other topics. These topics span the wide range of the subject appropriately. There is unfortunately no index or glossary, but the Table of Contents is detailed and organization of the text clear. Important terms are bold-faced throughout the text and relatively easy to find.
The authors effectively discuss shifts in scholarship about the commons throughout history in an accurate, unbiased manner. The text celebrates the life and work of Ostrom while integrating other perspectives, providing a holistic and accurate overview of scholarship on shared resource governance from political science, economics, and related cognate fields.
The focus of the text is on providing frameworks and concepts that can be applied to various types of commons and to diverse norms and rules involved in shared resource governance. This emphasis on frameworks as tools for application and analysis makes the text relevant for the foreseeable future. As Ostrom and her colleagues demonstrated, governance of shared resources is a longstanding concept worthy of investigation. The text highlights historical case studies originally discussed by Ostrom and others, and it also presents more recent examples from around the world. Later chapters on systems thinking help the reader project forward toward future resource governance challenges and opportunities, setting up the likelihood for longevity of this text and its lessons.
While still managing to maintain the structure of a textbook (with key terms in bold, clear chapter objectives, etc.), the text reads as a thoughtful narrative. The authors write encouragingly, guiding students to come to conclusions about social, political, and economic issues around them while still providing insights into theory and historical scholarship to help students situate those conclusions. Terms are clearly defined and consistently explained throughout the text.
The text is internally consistent. The authors regularly clarify the definitions of important concepts such as institutions, the Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) framework, norms, rules, collective action, and the commons/common-pool resources, while also consistently explaining how they relate to one another.
Each chapter beings with “Key concepts” that function effectively as study objectives. Chapters end with a short “Critical reflections” section that does more than reiterate bold-faced terms; instead, it situates them within the context provided in the chapter and with respect to one another. There is also a “Make yourself think” section in each chapter that provides helpful writing/journaling opportunities. While many sub-sections are lengthy, particularly in the first several chapters, the prose is consistently conversational and accessible. The tone is informative without being overly formal and the text is full of examples, narratives, and first-person interjections from the authors, making the reading experience a positive one.
The book moves in a logical order, from a theoretical background (part one) to case studies (part two) to concepts rooted in human behavior (part three) to rules and game theory (part four) to systems thinking (part five). This also aligns relatively well with the chronology of concepts discussed in the book, with the early portions of the text devoted to Ostrom and the work of her colleagues and with later portions of the text devoted to applying their insights toward modern resource governance challenges.
There are no issues with the book’s interface. The text appears in one column and there are no problems with navigation or other display features. The book is mostly text-based, with relatively few images or figures. When images are present, they are generally small and many are at a low resolution. This does not, however, distract from their meaning or relevance.
There are no distracting errors in the text.
True to the spirit of Ostrom and her colleagues’ work on the commons and institutions, the text relies on diverse case studies from around the world. Examples illustrate challenges of public goods and common-pool resources from a variety of communities. The authors juxtapose new examples from society today alongside historical case studies used by Ostrom and others in earlier examinations of the commons. This provides a holistic view of the utility of the Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) framework for studying shared resources.
The motivation for Sustaining the Commons was to provide the major insights, theories, and applications of Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues to an undergraduate audience. The authors draw from their history of teaching Ostrom’s classic 1990 text Governing the Commons as well as their experience working alongside her in research and teaching capacities to present a text that aligns with the spirit and ethos of her work while remaining accessible to undergraduate students. The text succeeds in its efforts to situate scholarship on the commons within broader economic and resource management questions, and it also provides excellent tools for approaching specific case studies of resource governance. This text is what I have been waiting for in order to teach environmental governance – I look forward to using it in my classroom!
Table of Contents
I THEORETICAL BACKGROUND
1 Why Study the Commons?
2 Defining Institutions
3 Action Arenas and Action Situations
4 Social Dilemmas
II CASE STUDIES
5 Water Governance
6 Harvesting From the Commons
7 Design Principles to Sustain the Commons
III HUMAN BEHAVIOR
8 Social Dilemmas in the Laboratory
9 Self-governance in the Laboratory
IV RULES OF THE GAMES
10 Classifying Rules
11 Rules, Norms and Shared Strategies
V A SYSTEMS PERSPECTIVE
12 Feedbacks and Stability
13 Coupled Infrastructure Systems
14 Think Globally, Act Locally?
15 Challenges Ahead
About the Book
This textbook discusses the main framework, concepts and applications of the work of Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues for an undergraduate audience. We began teaching a course on collective and the commons in 2007 at Arizona State University. Initially we made use of Ostrom’s classic book “Governing the Commons”, but this book was not written for an undergraduate audience. Moreover, many new insights have been developed since the 1990 publication of “Governing the Commons”. Therefore we decided to write our own textbook, which we have been using since the Spring of 2012.
In this book you will learn about institutions–the rules and norms that guide the interactions among us. Those rules and norms can be found from traffic rules, rules in sports, regulations on when and where alcohol can be consumed, to constitutional rules that define who can become president of the United States of America. Rules and norms guide us to cooperative outcomes of so-called collective action problems. If we rely on voluntary contributions only to get anything done, this may not lead to the best results. But research also shows that coercion of people to comply to strict rules do not necessary lead to good outcomes. What combination of sticks and carrots is needed to be successful to solve collective action problems such as sustaining the commons?
The book is based on the work of Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues. Ostrom is best known as the 2009 co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics “for her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons”. Elinor Ostrom was a professor at Indiana University since the mid 1960s, and a part-time research professor at Arizona State University since 2006. She was active in research and teaching until her death at the age of 78 on June 12, 2012.
About the Contributors
John M. Anderies' research interests focus on developing an understanding of how ecological, behavioral, social, and institutional factors affect the robustness/vulnerability characteristics of social-ecological systems. His work combines qualitative insights from present-day, historical, and archaeological case studies of social-ecological systems with formal mathematical modeling and experiments with human subjects to study how individual decision-making processes interact with governance regimes to influence social and environmental outcomes. Other areas of interest include economic growth, demographics, and theoretical ecology. Dr. Anderies teaches Dynamic Modeling in Social and Ecological Systems; Dynamic Modeling for Sustainability Science, Collective Action and Decision Making for Sustainability, and Rules, Games, and Society.
Marco Janssen obtained his MA in Econometrics and Operations Research at the Erasmus University Rotterdam in 1992, and PhD in Mathematics at the Maastricht University in 1996 under supervision of J. Rotmans and O.J. Vrieze.
After his graduation Janssen started his academic career as Postdoctoral Research fellow at the Department of Spatial Economics of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. In 2002 he moved to the United States, where he became Associate Research Scientist at the Center for the study of Institutions, Population and Environmental Change of the Indiana University, and from 2002 to 2007 Research Scientist. In 2005 he moved to the Arizona State University where he started as assistant professor, and became Associate Professor in 2010, and Professor at the School of Sustainability of the Global Institute of Sustainability in 2015. In 2007 to 2010 he was also Associate Director of its Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity, and since 2010 director of its Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity, since 2015 School of Human Evolution and Social Change.
Janssen research interests are in the field of the "interaction of behavioral, institutional and ecological processes... how people, their institutional rules and the environment they live in fit together in the past, present and the future, from local scales to the global scale," and has developed "formal (computational) models of social and social-ecological systems, and perform controlled experiments in the lab and field, and study case study material to test the stylized models," and particularly on agent-based modeling and institutional analysis.