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Polycentricity

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Type: Working Paper
Author: Ostrom, Vincent
Date: 1972
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Series:
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/3763
Sector: Theory
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Subject(s): Workshop
polycentricity
institutional design
constitutional choice
governance and politics
Polanyi, Michael
Abstract: "Application of the concept of polycentricity to the organization of government in metropolitan areas is examined. A polycentric order is defined as one where many elements are capable of making mutual adjustments for ordering relationships with one another within a general system of rules where each element acts with independence of other elements. Spontaneity, in the sense that individuals will be led to organize elements in a polycentric order, initiate self-enforcing arrangements and alter basic rules, is explored as an attribute of a polycentric order. "Reliance upon polycentricity in the organization of various decision-making arenas is examined in relation to markets, judicial decision making, constitutional rule, selection of political leadership and formation of political coalitions and in the operation of a public service economy. The existence of polycentricty in each of these decision making arenas suggests that the governance of metropolitan areas can occur in a polycentric political system so long as no single set of decision makers is able to gain dominance over all decision-making structures. Polycentricity is not confined to market structures but can apply to the organization of diverse political processes and by implication can apply to the political process as a whole. A polycentric political system will be one where each actor participated in a series of simultaneous games and where each act has the potential for being a move in simultaneous games. "Implications of a theory of polycentric organization for research in the governance of metropolitan areas are considered in relation to problems of language and differences of approach as reflected in the use of different units of analysis. Advantage can be taken of these differences so long as contradictory hypotheses can be derived from different theoretical formulations and be used as political experiments if careful attention is given to difference in diagnostic assessments and to differences in the predictive inferences associated with different proposals for policy change. It is this circumstance that provides a challenging opportunity for the generation of empirical research on metropolitan governance being undertaken in the 1970s. We may be on the threshold where political science becomes a cumulative intellectual discipline grounded in analytical theory and when empirical research can be used to mobilize evidence for rejecting some of the propositions which now pass for political science. Theory can be improved only when erroneous conceptions can be abandoned and when weak conceptions can be replaced by stronger conceptions."

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