from just such an admixture of methods and perspectives focused on a problem that touches on core theoretical issues of great practical importance.
This volume presents a series of papers that review and synthesize what we know about the commons, integrating what in the past have been somewhat disparate literatures and pointing directions for the future. It has several goals. First, for those not familiar with the rich literature since Hardin’s 1968 article, it is intended to provide a sound grounding in what has been learned. Second, for researchers in the field, it offers a state-of-the-art review that spans the field and shows connections that may not have been obvious in the past. Third, for researchers and those funding research, it conveys a sense of what has been accomplished with relatively modest funding and indicates the priorities for future work. Finally, although it is not a management handbook, it provides some guidance to those who design and manage institutions dealing with the commons by compiling the best available science for informing their choices.
This chapter offers a brief history of research on the commons, starting with Hardin’s influence but also acknowledging his predecessors. It describes the synthetic work that occurred in the mid-1980s. Building on that work, it clarifies the key concepts involved in understanding the commons. One of the major contributions of commons scholarship has been to make much clearer which concepts must be brought to bear and which distinctions made in understanding the commons. These include the crucial distinction between the resource itself, the arrangements humans use to govern access to the resources, and the key properties of the resource and the arrangements that drive the drama. The chapter concludes by sketching the plan of the book.
Hardin’s influential 1968 article in Science on “The Tragedy of the Commons” is one of the most often-cited scientific papers written in the second half of the twentieth century. The article stimulated immense intellectual interest across both the natural and social sciences,3 extensive debate, and a new interdisciplinary field of study. Scientific interest in the commons grew throughout the 1970s and early 1980s largely in reaction to Hardin’s article and the frightening news stories about sharp population declines of many species, particularly those from the ocean. Interest was fanned by the debate about limits to growth, and the increasing awareness of deforestation in tropical regions of the world.
Prior to the publication of Hardin’s article, titles such as “commons,” “common-pool resources,” or “common property” appeared only 17 times in the academic literature published in English and cataloged in the “Common-Pool Resource Bibliography” maintained by Hess at Indiana University.4 Between that time and 1984, before the Annapolis, Maryland conference organized by the Na-