Sustaining the Commons

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John Anderies, Arizona State University
Marco Janssen, Arizona State University

Pub Date: 2016

ISBN 13:

Publisher: Independent

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Table of Contents


1 Why Study the Commons? 
2 Defining Institutions
3 Action Arenas and Action Situations
4 Social Dilemmas

5 Water Governance
6 Harvesting From the Commons
7 Design Principles to Sustain the Commons

8 Social Dilemmas in the Laboratory
9 Self-governance in the Laboratory

10 Classifying Rules
11 Rules, Norms and Shared Strategies

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.