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Session 9– 11.08.2010 Institutions for managing human-environment systems (Speaker: Elinor Ostrom)

This session provides an opportunity to explore the institutions -- the rules, norms, incentive structures, expectations, etc. -- by which people seek to govern or manage human-environment systems for sustainability. The authors of the book are grappling with several tensions here, as will be apparent in the readings. One of these concerns assumptions about the goals of human actors (hedonistic, communitarian, idealistic, etc.). Another concerns the place of rationality -- however broadly defined -- in individual and social decision making. Still another concerns the role of the state and its relation to other actors in the governance of human-environment systems. Finally, we are struggling to integrate our views on management problems that arise in the context of highly asymmetric externalities (eg. I release pollutants that hurt you much more than me) and those those that arise in the context of more symmetrical resource commons (we are both grazing the same pasture). Because our guest speaker, Elinor Ostrom, has been a leader in the study of institutions for the governance of resource commons, I suggest that we focus our discussions in the seminar session itself on that dimension of institutions, and reserve our reflections on cases of asymmetric pollution mostly for the web site. (Bill Clark)

Speaker Bio: Elinor Ostrom
Elinor Ostrom is an American political scientist. She was awarded the 2009 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, which she shared with Oliver E. Williamson, for her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons. She is the first woman to win the prize in this category. Ostrom is Distinguished Professor at Indiana University and the Arthur F. Bentley Professor of Political Science and Co-Director of the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University in Bloomington, as well as Research Professor and the Founding Director of the Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity at Arizona State University in Tempe. She has studied how self-organization and local-level management works to keep common resources, whether natural (e.g., forests) or man-made (e.g., police forces), viable. Combining data from diverse sources ranging from classical techniques such as surveys to modern advances such as satellite imagery, Ostrom has uncovered numerous principles that govern successful sustainability and that defy conventional beliefs. She received a received a B.A. (with honors) in political science at UCLA in 1954. She was awarded an M.A. in 1962 and a Ph.D. in 1965, both from UCLA Department of Political Science. She was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2001. See
Required reading from the Sustainability Science book
I suggest that you start with a quick read of Chapter 2_4a, the "Appendix" on "Institutions and externalities." It provides a general overview of the institutional challenges for managing human-environment systems. But because our guest speaker, Elinor Ostrom, has focused in her writing on the governance of common pool resources, I suggest that we will get the most out of this seminar session by focusing a careful reading and our discussion on Chapter 2.4 (old chapter 4) "How human well being and development depend on institutions." The discussion questions provided by the ASU team have been selected with this focus in mind. (Clark)
Supplemental readings from the Reader
1) Lebel, L., A. Contreras, S. Pasong, and P. Garden. 2004. Nobody knows best: Alternative perspectives on forest management and governance in Southeast Asia. International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics 4:111-127. 2) Young, O. R., E. F. Lambin, F. Alcock, H. Haberl, S. I. Karlsson, W. J. McConnell, T. Myint, C. Pahl-Wostl, C. Polsky, P. S. Ramakrishnan, H. Schroeder, M. Scouvart, and P. H. Verburg. 2006. A portfolio approach to analyzing complex human-environment interactions: Institutions and land change. Ecology and Society 11(2):31. 3) Ostrom, E., and H. Nagendra. 2006. Insights on linking forests, trees, and people from the air, on the ground, and in the laboratory. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103(51):19224-19231.
Supplemental readings from moderator/discussant William Clark, Harvard Univ
I provide here two supplementary readings for those who wish to go deeper into some of the issues we will be discussing. The Ostrom paper is her Nobel acceptance speech, and addresses in more depth many of the issues raised in her assigned book chapter. (This paper is also recommended by the ASU student group responsible for the commentary on this session). The Young paper provides an overview of what we have learned about the efficacy of institutional arrangements for environmental governance at the global scale.
Supplemental readings from Arizona State Univ students
Beyond Market States
Slides from Lin Ostrom's Presentation - Monday November 8th, 2010
Institutions_ ASU Response and Discussion Questions.ppt
These are the powerpoint slides from the ASU students' presentation responding to Lin's talk.
Summary of Session 9
Video Recording: Institutions for managing human-environment systems