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Beyond the Tragedy of the Commons

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Kumar, Nirja
Conference: The Commons in an Age of Globalisation, the Ninth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Conf. Date: June 17-21, 2002
Date: 2002
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/1482
Sector: Forestry
Region: Middle East & South Asia
Subject(s): IASC
common pool resources--case studies
tragedy of the commons
forest management
property rights
Abstract: "The debate initiated by Garrett Hardin does not seem to be concluding even 33 years after the publication of his seminal article 'The Tragedy of Commons'. He argued that users of common get trapped in an inevitable process that ultimately results in tragic loss of the commons, and to arrest such losses we need external interventions. Researchers, later on, not only questioned the universal applicability of the hypotheses but also demonstrated that there are many other approaches of commons management than suggested by Hardin. Empirical studies have also shown that communities have been managing their commons through their self-evolved local institutions and may not require any external interventions for it. However, many still agree that tragedy of commons is real and we cannot ignore it altogether. Even Hardin himself, while redefining his metaphor, reiterated that his conventional wisdom still holds true for unmanaged commons. The debate, however, on this dichotomy in views on management of commons theory remains inconclusive, and had generated more heat than light. "In this paper, Hardin's proposition on the management of commons and subsequent developments has been discussed in context of a case study from central India. Learning from the case indicate that unlike the growing views on the subject, which intends to outrightly negate the Hardins metaphor, there exists reasons to believe in his thesis. The article is based on a case study in Mandla, a heavily forested and tribal dominated district of Madhya Pradesh. In Mandla, once a well forested and managed area, slowly started experiencing the situation termed as tragedy of commons which ultimately resulted in the complete degradation of the area. However, again same community, which was responsible for its degradation, worked collectively to regenerate the forest. Based on the paper, it has been concluded that Hardin's metaphor is still a field reality, although community also demonstrates their capability of managing their commons in given situation. It has been found that the divergent views tragedy of commons, in reality, are two phases of commons management, and occurrence of both of these depends on contextual factors. Further, the impression that tragedy of the commons is related with the commons that are only under 'open access' is not always true. Applicability of findings is of great importance for sustaining participatory forest management and adds into the existing and established knowledge on the subject. In the next section of the paper fundamental concepts dealing with the forests as commons and, property right related with the forests have been discussed. The subsequent sections deal with the case, implications of the findings, and finally, conclusion of the paper."

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