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Institutional Arrangements and the Commons Dilemma

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Type: Book Chapter
Author: Ostrom, Elinor; Ostrom, Vincent; Feeny, David; Picht, Hartmut
Book Title: Rethinking Institutional Analysis and Development: Issues, Alternatives, and Choices
Publisher: ICS Press
Location: San Francisco
Page(s): 103-139
Date: 1988
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/47
Sector: Social Organization
Region:
Subject(s): Workshop
common pool resources
tragedy of the commons
institutional design
Abstract: "Would reasonable humans, trying to order their own long-term relationships in a productive manner, structure a situation in such a perverse way? Reasonable humans may, of course, structure situations in this manner when they wish to prevent the participants in a situation from cooperating with one another. Some cooperation among participants may lead to harms externalized on others, as in criminal conspiracies or economic cartels. Cooperation is not an unambiguous good in all situations (see Ullmann-Margalit, 1977). Is the only 'choice' available to rational human beings a 'choice' within the constraints of an externally imposed structure? Once we accept this limited view of choice, we are doomed to accept the imposition of structure by external authorities as the only way out of perverse situations such as the Commons Dilemma. I do not accept such a limited view of choice; I now turn from this critique to a more positive approach to the study of Commons Dilemmas. "In the next section I will briefly describe four commons situations that have not resulted in tragedy. If we arc to understand how individuals can escape from tragedy, we need to study 'success stories' carefully. These stories are particularly interesting because none of them relies on central control or market mechanisms as its primary mode of management. Empirical cases provide the grist for further theoretical development. Once I have presented these four cases, then, I will turn to several substantive and methodological lessons to be learned from analysis of them."

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