Summary of "Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action"

 

Summary of

Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action

By Elinor Ostrom

Summary written by T.A. O'Lonergan, Conflict Research Consortium


Citation: Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, Elinor Ostrom, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 270 pp.


Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action is an examination of the nature of the commons, and the evolution and development of self-organisation and self-governance of those commons.

Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action will be of interest to those who seek an understanding of common-pool resources and their self-governance. Chapter one begins with an examination of the commons and the presentation of three models of the commons. The author discusses: the tragedy of the commons, the prisoner's dilemma game, and the logic of collective action. The author concludes with comparison of the Leviathan approach and the privatization approach to the governance of the commons. To these two approaches the author offers an empirical alternative.

The second chapter offers an institutional approach to the study of self-organisation and self-governance in common-pool resource (CPR) situations. Ostrom begins with an examination of the nature of CPR situations and the theoretical basis for interdependence, independent action and collective action in such situations. This is followed by discussion of the problems of: supply, credible commitment, and mutual monitoring. The author concludes with a focus upon framing the inquiry, wherein appropriation and provision problems and multiple levels of analysis are examined.

The next chapter is an analysis of long-enduring, self organised and self-governed CPRs.

In this context Ostrom examines: Tobel, Switzerland, three Japanese villages and two irrigation communities; a fifteenth century Spanish one and a seventeenth century Philippine one. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the similarities among enduring, self-governing CPR institutions. The fourth chapter is an analysis of institutional change which focuses upon commonly held water. The author examines the logic of water rights and litigation arising therefrom. The focus is on water allocation in the watersheds which supply Los Angeles with water. Ostrom acknowledges the necessity of entrepreneurship in the polycentric system of water rights governance in California.

The penultimate chapter is an analysis of institutional failures and frailties with a focus upon: two Turkish inshore fisheries, California groundwater basins, a Sri Lankan and a Nova Scotian fishery. In the final chapter the author offers a framework for analysis of self-organising and self-governing CPRs. The bulk of the chapter is a framework for analyzing institutional choice. Ostrom examines the evaluation of: benefits, costs, shared norms; and the process of institutional change. Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action is a careful examination of the way in which commons have been governed historically. From this examination, the author proposes a method for governance which is empirical in nature.