A Tale of Two Commons. Some Preliminary Hypotheses on the Long-term Development of the Commons in Western and Eastern Europe, 11th-19th Centuries

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"In this article, we present our hypotheses regarding the divergence in the development of common-property regimes between Eastern and Western Europe. The latter area developed formalized arrangements for the collective exploitation of natural resources particularly early, and it was chosen not only by farmers, but also in the cities--by craftsmen--to deal with the economic and social problems during the late medieval and early modern times. In the East the development of such institutions for collective action started--we believe--much later, due to a number of factors. Whereas in the West population growth and urbanization occurred together with a speedy commercialization of the economy, putting pressure on natural resources and hence leading to an increasing demand by peasants to formalize the collective use of their land, the peasants east of the Elbe River lacked the agency to demand such change in the governance regime of their land. They were limited in their behaviour by the strictures of the second serfdom, which was accompanied by lesser urbanization and commercialization. In this article, we offer some explanatory frameworks to understand and study this long-term development--or lack thereof--of institutions for collective action across the European continent."
commons, institutional analysis, collective action, communes