that have been uncovered by research. Finally, it suggests directions for future research, including further development of some ongoing lines of research and new attention to four critical but understudied issues: understanding the dynamics of resource management institutions, extending insights to more kinds of common-pool resources, understanding the effects of context on institutions, and understanding the operation of linkages across institutions.



In thinking about environmental concern, it has been useful to distinguish self-interest, concern with the welfare of other humans, and concern with other species, ecosystems, and the biosphere itself (Stern et al., 1993).


In a parallel argument, Axelrod (1997) suggests that game theory provides an Escherichia coli for the social sciences—an ideal experimental organism. We prefer the analogy to Drosophila melanogaster. E. coli has been studied primarily in the laboratory. Drosophila has been investigated both in the laboratory and in the field, and has been a key organism for making the link between the two (Dobzhansky et al., 1977; Rubin and Lewis, 2000). Thus it provides a closer parallel to the role the problem of the commons plays in the social sciences.


See Hardin’s own discussion of the impact of his earlier article (Hardin, 1998).


The first bibliography on common-pool resources was started in 1985 by Martin (1989, 1992). In 1993 Hess developed a computerized database on common-pool resources and incorporated the earlier citations. She has continued building the bibliographic database through systematic searches (Hess, 1996a, 1996b, 1999). As of April 2001, 29,800 citations were in the Common-Pool Resources database. A searchable online version of this database is available at:


This conference was cosponsored by the National Research Council, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Ford Foundation, and the World Wildlife Fund. At about the same time as the NRC Panel on Common Property Resource Management was organized, Acheson and McCay organized two symposia and one workshop to bring together anthropologists from diverse subfields to examine the meaning of the concept “the commons” and to draw on the tools of sociocultural, economic, and ecological anthropology to examine basic questions of the commons (see McCay and Acheson, 1987b).


Hardin’s argument is quite similar to the position held until recently by most evolutionary theorists: that selfish strategies would always obtain higher returns than reciprocal or cooperative strategies and drive out through competition any strategies other than selfish strategies. However, this view is losing its dominance. See Sober and Wilson (1998) and the discussion in Chapter 12.


A “game of chicken” can be illustrated with two drivers rapidly driving toward each other in a single lane. They both realize they will collide unless at least one swerves, so that they miss each other. Each prefers that the other swerves. The choice facing each is to go straight or swerve. If both go straight, they crash. The best joint outcome is for one to go straight and the other to swerve, but one player obtains more than the other in this outcome. The “assurance game” (also called “stag hunt”) can be illustrated with two hunters following a stag. Catching the stag requires a joint effort of both, which yields the best joint outcomes. When a rabbit approaches the two hunters, they both face a temptation to catch a rabbit, which either can do alone, rather than chasing a stag with the uncertain help of the other. Going jointly for a stag is surely rational, but if the hunters have any reasons to doubt the effort of each other, then it is better to turn and start hunting a rabbit. For detailed discussion of the differences among these three types of games as applied to common-pool resources, see Ostrom et al. (1994).


The panel was composed of Daniel W. Bromley, David H. Feeny, Jere L. Gilles, William T.

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