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Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action (Political Economy of Institutions and Decisions) unknown Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521405997
ISBN-10: 0521405998
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Elinor Ostrom is Arthur F. Bentley Professor of Political Science, Codirector of the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University, and Codirector of the Center for the Study of Institutions, Population, and Environmental Change (CIPEC) at Indiana University.Ostrom was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences.

From the Back Cover

Elinor Ostrom here provides a unique body of empirical data to explore the conditions under which common-pool resource problems have been satisfactorily or unsatisfactorily solved.
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Product Details

  • Series: Political Economy of Institutions and Decisions
  • Paperback: 298 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; unknown edition (November 30, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521405998
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521405997
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #209,610 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Elinor Ostrom's Governing the Commons is a wonderful introduction to the world of "common pool resources," a.k.a. CPRs. Technicalities aside, a CPR is a resource that grows over time but can be harvested by more than one person. The classic example of a CPR is the English grazing commons, popularized in Hardin's "The Tragedy of the Commons." Forests, fisheries, and smog-free air are also good examples.

In her book, Ostrom takes an ethnographic approach to studying the management and mismanagement of CPRs. The key question for managing such commons is sustainability. Without some kind of enforceable agreement among those who would harvest a CPR, the resource will rapidly be depleted and possibly destroyed. Ostrom argues that good collective management can arise naturally from communities of people with a mutual interest in the sustainability of commons. In a series of detailed case studies, she lays out conditions ("design principles") that seem to allow -- or prevent -- the good governance of the CPR in question.

Once you've seen these design principles, they seem to pop up everywhere. "Congruence between appropriation and provision rules and local conditions" sounds a lot like the idea of local adaptation in the diffusion of innovations literature. "Monitoring" sounds like the role middle managers play in corporations. "Minimal rights to organize" sounds like the First Amendment.

Overall, Ostrom's book is an open-ended classic. It provides a great description of common pool resources through the lens of ethnographic case studies, plus a framework for looking at CPR problems in general. Ostrom never advances of specific theory of governance. Instead, she lays out many interesting and suggestive examples and principles.
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Format: Paperback
Ostrom attempts to refute the belief that only through state and or market-centered controls can commonly pooled resources (CPRs) be effectively governed. Ostrom writes, "Communities of individuals have relied on institutions resembling neither the state nor the market to govern some resource systems with reasonable degrees of success over long periods of time" (p. 1). Governing the Commons sets out to discover why some groups are able to effectively govern and manage CPRs and other groups fail. She tries to identify both the internal and external factors "that can impede or enhance the capabilities of individuals to use and govern CPRs."

The first section of the book examines both state-controlled and privatization property rights regimes, and illustrates failures in both regimes; namely, that central authorities often fail to have complete accuracy of information, have only limited monitoring capabilities, and possess a weak sanctioning reliability. As such, a centralized governing body may actually govern the commons inaccurately and make a bad situation worse. In the case of privatized property rights regimes, Ostrom illustrates two main points: 1) it assumes that property is homogenous and any division of property will be equitable; and 2) privatization will not work with non-stationary property (fisheries, for example).

After discussing the state-controlled and privatization property rights regimes, Ostrom attempts examine the causes of successful CPR governance, and the catalysts which lead to failure. Being part of the "new institutionalist" school, Ostrom seeks to examine the rules, structures, and frameworks within the various CPR governance structures. Ostrom has discovered a number of "design principles" within the successful CPR governance cases.
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Format: Paperback
"Governing the Commons" has become a classic, not only within the literature of political science, but more broadly throughout the social sciences. In the book, Elinor Ostrom argues brilliantly and compelling for a third way of avoiding Garrett Hardin's "tragedy of the commons," in addition to privatization (conversion of the commons to private property) or government regulation (conversion of the commons to public property). Though numerous examples, Ostrom demonstrates how users of common property resources have managed, in various places around the world, to sustainably manage those resources through local, self-regulation. In other words, common property regimes can avoid the "tragedy of the commons."

Ostrom recognizes that common property management regimes do not always work. Indeed, the seem to fail as often as they succeed. To explain why this is the case, and to help predict the likelihood of success or failure, Ostrom develops an elaborate and very useful model of common property success/failure. In the 15 years since she published "Governing the Commons," that model has not been significantly improved by other scholars. Her book remains as current and important today, as it was when she first published it in 1990. It is required reading for all social scientists, indeed anyone, interested in resource conservation and property systems.
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Format: Paperback
Ostroms' book covers a variety of cases where allocational difficulties arise. She employs sound economic reasoning in analyzing a number of cases where ordinary property rights enforcment is difficult. This book illustrates how vital institutional arrangements are in managing natural resources. Self-described environmentalists should read this book to see how many of the problems that concern them can actually get solved. The history in this book is made interesting through the application of economic concepts. This is not light reading, but it surely is interesting- for serious readers.
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