BOX 2-6 An Illustrative Set of Causal Links in Commons Research

Durable institutions


f(boundary definition, enforcement, government recognition) + error

Boundary definition


f(group interdependence, poverty, social capital) + error

Group interdependence


f(group size, resource size, mobility, market pressures) + error


The above equations would lead to:

Durable Institutions


f(group size, resource size, mobility, market pressures, group interdependence, poverty, social capital, enforcement, government recognition) + error

Consider another example. Common property theorists have argued that high levels of dependence on resources in a subsistence-oriented economy are likely to be associated with better governance of common resources. Once again, a chain of causal relationships might be stated as follows (see Box 2-7):

  1. Low levels of articulation with the market, high population pressures, low availability of substitutes, and relatively less developed technology promote high dependence on common resources;

  2. High dependence on common resources and low possibilities of migration lead users to devise strong constraints on resource use, including strong enforcement mechanisms; and

  3. Strong enforcement mechanisms and predictability in flow of benefits leads to sustainable institutional arrangements for governing common resources.

Boxes 2-6 and 2-7 hint at some of the problems of method highlighted in this section. They show that different analysts, depending on the context, may choose to highlight very different causal variables to explain the same phenomenon. They also show how multiple causation is a real-world phenomenon that most commons scholars need to confront explicitly. Finally, Boxes 2-6 and 2-7 show that the factors presented in Box 2-5, when considered by an analyst in the empirical context of his or her research, can help construct causal links and thereby help in research design and case selection.

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