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The Politics of Technology and the Governance of Commons

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Tenenberg, Josh
Conference: Governing Shared Resources: Connecting Local Experience to Global Challenges, the Twelfth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Commons
Location: Cheltenham, England
Conf. Date: July 14-18, 2008
Date: 2008
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/1480
Sector: Social Organization
Information & Knowledge
Subject(s): technology
governance and politics
Abstract: "In the 40 years since Hardin's fatalistic pronouncement that privatization and centralized state control are the only two institutional arrangements capable of preventing the tragedy of the commons, there has been considerable research to the contrary. The same could not be said for a similar pronouncement by Lewis Mumford in 1964 concerning the politics of technology in his 'Authoritarian and Democratic Technics.' Mumford contrasts a technology that is powerful, centralized, and authoritarian with a technology that is distributed, human-centered, and democratic, suggesting that man's autonomy and ability to self-govern hang in the balance between these two stark choices. Institutional arrangements, according to Mumford are 'deeply embedded in the technology itself.' While Hardin's stark choice between two polar opposites has been refuted in research revealing a great diversity of institutional arrangements for commons governance, there has been little systematic effort in examining the diversity of technological arrangements as they relate to politics in general and commons governance in particular. What this paper undertakes is to begin this effort by borrowing the insights and methods from institutional analysis. I examine a variety of examples in both natural resource and new commons through the lens of the Institutional Analysis and Development framework, highlighting the effect of technologies on access, control, information, and monitoring. As a result, I argue that technological arrangements are more varied and complex in terms of their political effects than suggested by Mumford, and that commons researchers and policy makers should have specific concern with the role of technologies in commons governance."

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