Anarchist Themes in the Work of Elinor Ostrom

Governance, Agency and Autonomy: Anarchist Themes in the Work of Elinor Ostrom [PDF]

This paper is intended as one in a series, to be read along with my previous one on James C. Scott, on anarchist and decentralist thinkers whose affection for the particularity of local, human-scale institutions overrides any doctrinaire ideological labels.

The Governance of Common Pool Resources. Ostrom begins by noting the problem of natural resource depletion—what she calls “common pool resources”—and then goes on to survey three largely complementary (“closely related concepts”) major theories that attempt to explain “the many problems that individuals face when attempting to achieve collective benefits”: Hardin’s “tragedy of the commons,” the prisoner’s dilemma, and Olson’s “logic of collective action.”

Unfortunately, these models (or this model) ossified into a dogma, serving more often as a substitute for thought than a starting point. Even more than twenty years after Ostrom’s seminal work, it’s still common to state as a truism—backed only by a passing allusion to Hardin or the prisoner’s dilemma—that the actual users of resources will inevitably deplete them in the absence of governance by some higher authority or other. …

Center for a Stateless Society Paper No. 16 (Second Half 2013) [PDF]

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