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


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.

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Journal of Institutional Economics
  • ISSN: 1744-1374
  • EISSN: 1744-1382
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