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The Drama of the Commons
dealing with common-pool resource and environmental problems (Snow et al., 1986). Such an approach could be useful in analyzing the rise and deployment of concepts such as community-based management and self-governance of the commons (Brosius et al., 1998; Taylor, 1998).
Steins and Edwards (1999) employ a social constructivist perspective to criticize and improve “standard common-pool resources theory.” They point to the frequent assumption that common-pool resources are single-use resources even though they often have multiple and conflicting uses; the tendency to focus on factors that are internal to a resource-using community at the expense of external factors that affect the decisions of shareholders; and, finally, the failure to appreciate the role of processes “through which collective action is constructed (and reconstructed) by the shareholders” (Steins and Edwards, 1999:540). Steins and Edwards make their arguments through a case study of a situation in Ireland where an oyster-growers cooperative had been formed but most people refused to meet their obligations. They attempt to explain this free-riding behavior, and they find that explanation in the particular details of this situation and its larger context and longer history. They show the importance of careful analysis of processes of social construction of everyday reality and the environment. They contribute a stronger focus on the ways that critical elements of the situation under study, such as whether the institution is a “failure” or a “success,” and actors’ understandings of the political environment, are socially constructed. They also point to the ways these constructions or understandings vary among social actors and change over time and with experience. The process of collective action itself will reshape the networks, meanings, perceptions, and social experience that affect stakeholders’ choices (Steins and Edwards, 1999:544). In closely related work, Selsky and Memon applied social constructionism to examine the emergence of institutions for dealing with port development issues in New Zealand (Memon and Selsky, 1998; Selsky and Memon, 2000). They suggest that studies of complex common-pool resource domains2 such as ports may advance theory in ways that studies of simpler, single-use common-pool resource domains cannot. They are sites for multiple and indeterminate interactions among stakeholders, involving dynamics of power, conflict, and competition as well as collaboration and institutional innovation (Selsky and Memon, 2000). The constructivist orientation they use highlights the roles of various actors and relations among them in determining how property rights and other institutions are constructed and change in such domains, as well as the emergence of de facto rights and local rules as against de juris rights and extra-local policy.
Steins and Edwards argue that using a common-pool resource “design principles” approach at the outset of the analysis would have made it harder to see and appreciate the role of contextual and external factors. Moreover, they argue that using a design-principles analytic model too easily results in generalizations that raise the question of “normativity.” Design principles such as the high noticeability of cheating may be useful starting points for analysis, but it is im-