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Common Mistakes About Common Property

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Sengupta, Nirmal
Conference: The Commons in an Age of Global Transition: Challenges, Risks and Opportunities, the Tenth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Oaxaca, Mexico
Conf. Date: August 9-13
Date: 2004
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/1231
Sector: Theory
Subject(s): IASC
common pool resources--theory
collective action--theory
institutional economics
Abstract: "Against the doomsday prediction of Hardin, the early analyses of CPR (a) brought to fore numerous cases of sustainable use of resources by communities and (b) addressed the question of incentives for collective action. The case study materials were then used to formulate design principles. Collective action theories developed using two distinct approaches (i) moral economy approach and (ii) formal models of rationality of co-operation. These are the major theoretical tools available for CPR studies. Unfortunately, the counterexamples were overwhelmingly examples of small, more or less, undifferentiated communities in the peripheries of markets. The moral economy theories in general, were developed to explain somewhat similar situations. Formal models of rationality like game theory find it convenient to explain cooperation in small, secluded groups of identical (undifferentiated) players in a static setting. This kind of images of common property keeps on recurring in CPR studies. "This is in spite of the fact that by now, descriptions in contrast to such images have been investigated at length by several scholars. The possible scale of CPR has touched global height. The observed effects of market intervention are not unidirectional. There are cases where internal cooperation has been facilitated by market forces. Nor are the communities egalitarian, as numerous case studies show against the popular notions. Transitions to different collective action regime and to higher levels are subjects of many studies. While CPR scholars, on the one hand, are investigating these complex relations, on the other hand a very large section of CPR studies still keep on repeating one or the other of the simple-minded CPR images. The narrow and improper image of CPR has serious consequences for development policies. Development officials in developing countries, who are usually far less informed about advanced research topics, are guided by such simple images and find support in the CPR studies propagating those images. In developing countries CPR policies are made only for management by small communities, and that too for preservation not development. Increasing differentiation and market extension is viewed with suspicion. "Research on the complex relations is the theme of this conference. Simultaneous efforts should be made for curtailing the inappropriate simple images that are still proliferating. This paper summarizes the existing literature on the complexity of relations. But its major focus is not to make another contribution in understanding one of these complexities but to bring out from the survey of literature, the common mistakes about common property, which should be avoided by all. Towards this end the present article focuses on showing the deadweight of simple but inappropriate images of CPR in literature on CPR policies. "Finally, an alternative analytical approach that may accommodate the complexities, but has not received much attention in CPR studies, will be discussed. The New Institutional Economic (NIE) literature, that admits hierarchies, organizations and different forms of property along with markets, may have something to offer. However, this is only an appeal for exploration, not a recommendation."

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