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How Inexorable is the 'Tragedy of the Commons?' Institutional Arrangements for Changing the Social Structure of Social Dilemmas

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Ostrom, Elinor
Conference: Distinguished Faculty Research Lecture
Location: Office of Research and Graduate Development, Indiana University
Conf. Date: April 3, 1986
Date: 1986
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/1998
Sector: Theory
Subject(s): tragedy of the commons
common pool resources
social networks
institutional analysis--IAD framework
Abstract: From page 1: "Since Garrett Hardin's captivating article in Science (1968), the expression, 'the tragedy of the commons,' has come to symbolize the degradation of the environment to be expected whenever many individuals own a scarce resource in common. Godwin and Shepard (1979: 265) refer to Hardin's article as '. . . the dominant framework within which social scientists portray environmental and resource issues.' To illustrate the logical structure of his theory, Hardin asks the reader to envision a pasture 'open to all.' He then examines the structure of this situation from the perspective of a rational herdsman. Each herdsman receives a direct return from selling his own animals and suffers delayed costs from the deterioration of the commons when he and others overgraze. The herdsman is motivated to add more and more animals because he receives the proceeds from the sale of his own animals and bears only a share of the costs resulting from over-grazing. Hardin concludes: Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit - - in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons (Hardin, 1968: 1,244)."

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