tarian premises in the sense that they focus on the incentives of key actors as they respond to institutional arrangements or, for that matter, endeavor to manipulate them in ways that further their own interests. The examples show how these processes play out in a range of situations involving human uses of terrestrial and marine resources. But at this stage, they are largely illustrative in nature. My goal is to demonstrate the significance of institutional interplay and to suggest an agenda for future work in this emerging field rather than to arrive at well-tested conclusions about the consequences of institutional interplay in specific settings.

The basic argument of the chapter is easy to state but profound in its implications. The extent to which specific environmental or resource regimes yield outcomes that are sustainable—much less efficient or equitable—is a function not only of the allocation of tasks between or among institutions operating at different levels of social organization but also of cross-scale interactions among distinct institutional arrangements. Understandably, the occurrence of more or less serious conflicts arising from institutional interplay can trigger initiatives on the part of influential actors or interest groups intended to structure the resultant interactions to their own advantage. But such conflicts also can give rise to exercises in institutional design aimed at managing institutional interplay in order to promote the common good or the public interest. In the following sections, I argue that it seldom makes sense to focus exclusively on finding the right level or scale at which to address specific problems arising from human/environment relations. Although small-scale or local arrangements have well-known problems of their own, there are good reasons to be wary of the pitfalls associated with the view that the formation of regimes at higher levels of social organization offers a straightforward means of regulating human activities involving large marine and terrestrial ecosystems. In most cases, the key to success lies in allocating specific tasks to the appropriate level of social organization and then taking steps to ensure that cross-scale interactions produce complementary rather than conflicting actions.


Patterns of land use and the sustainability of human/environment relations associated with them are determined, in considerable measure, by the interplay of (sub)national—predominantly modern and formal—structures of public property and local—often informal—systems of land tenure based on common property arrangements.3 For their part, patterns of sea use and the sustainability of the relevant marine ecosystems are affected greatly by the interplay of (sub)national regulatory systems—legitimized by the creation of exclusive economic zones (EEZs) during the 1970s and 1980s—and subsistence or artisanal practices guiding the actions of local users of marine resources.

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