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Digging deeper into Hardin's pasture: the complex institutional structure of ‘the tragedy of the commons’

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 March 2014

DANIEL H. COLE*
Affiliation:
Maurer School of Law and School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405, USAVincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47408, USA
GRAHAM EPSTEIN*
Affiliation:
Department of Political Science, School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405, USAVincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47408, USA
MICHAEL D. MCGINNIS*
Affiliation:
Department of Political Science, School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405, USAVincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47408, USA

Abstract

A revised application of Ostrom's (Ostrom, 2007) Social-Ecological System (SES) framework to Hardin's ‘tragedy of the commons’ (Hardin, G. (1968), Science, 162(3859): 1243–1248) demonstrates that its institutional structure is more complex than either Hardin or Ostrom had imagined. The ‘tragedy’ arises from several interacting resources and institutions. If the grass on the pasture was not subject to appropriation, the cattle were not privately owned, or property- and contract-enforcement institutions supporting market exchange were absent, then the ‘tragedy of the commons’ would not have arisen regardless of the open-access pasture. This paper highlights the utility of the SES framework and the care required to apply it precisely to specific social-ecological situations.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Millennium Economics Ltd 2014 

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