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The Drama of the Commons
choices related to common-pool resources. The discussion builds on work done in health psychology and risk studies, but it should be clear that it calls for a far more social, political, and ecological perspective than usually found in those research traditions or in the neo-institutionalist tradition of common-pool resource studies. For example, I discuss matters such as the role of culture in appraisals of environmental problems, why incrementalism or “muddling through” helps in the provision of institutions, and the importance of physical and social spaces and open communication for deliberation about common problems. The second section of the chapter reviews alternatives to the neo-institutionalist paradigm for understanding commons problems. I begin by introducing two approaches in human ecology that may be helpful in understanding commons problems and the emergence of institutions. The older one is the “economics of flexibility” or “response process” approach developed and used mostly during the 1970s. The newer one is “political ecology.” I then discuss the broader set of historical, social constructionist, and “embeddedness” perspectives that underpin many critiques of common-pool resource studies and the importance of being specific and critical about key concepts, in this case “community.” The third section brings together social constructionism and “event ecology,” emphasizing the methodological points shared by otherwise seemingly strange bedfellows. Among the shared perspectives is concern about adopting a priori any particular theory or hypothesis if the goal is to understand and explain human-environment interactions.
SITUATED RATIONAL CHOICE AND THE EMERGENCE OF INSTITUTIONS FOR THE COMMONS
A start toward bringing together the rational choice approach and theoretical and methodological approaches in the social sciences that emphasize context and sociality may be found in the notion of situated or embedded rational choice. Rational choices are embedded in situations or contexts that structure the preferences people have, the knowledge available to them, its quality and levels of uncertainty, the risks they face, the resources to which they have access, the people with whom they interact, and more, including the institutions—norms, rules, values, organizations, and patterns of behavior—that frame and structure their lives.
Neo-institutional models of behavior play a major role in this discussion of the emergence of institutions. The analytic and rhetorical power of such models cannot be denied. The idea of “situated rational choice” is that rational choice is affected strongly by the situation of the individual or other decision-making entity, with situation defined in social, cultural, political, and ecological terms as relevant to contexts that are specified in historical, geographic, and other ways. It is an incremental move toward an analytic orientation that gives stronger methodological and theoretical weight to the complexity, history and dynamics, and in-