NCCR North-South Dialogue, No. 2

by Tobias Haller

Bern, NCCR North-South, 2007

When environmental issues are at stake, analysis of renewable resource use frequently focuses on unrestricted use by local people who hold them as commons. It is then often believed that resources are perceived as free for all, leading to the overuse of resources (a “tragedy of the commons”). However, critiques of such approaches argue that commons are not open access but usually the property of specific groups who define and enforce rules and regulations (institutions) for inclusion and exclusion of resource users. 
The present paper considers the theory of New Institutionalism and how it helps to understand livelihood strategies and institutional change with respect to resource management (Ostrom 1990, Ensminger 1992, Acheson 2003). As an actor-oriented theory applied in economics, political science and anthropology, New Institutionalism takes account of the role of formal and informal institutions (rules, norms, values and law) in decreasing or increasing resource management transaction costs by creating predictability of resource users. The paper argues that this approach is a useful tool for discussing livelihood strategies. New Institutionalism looks at the design of locally developed institutions (Ostrom 1990); in a newer version developed within anthropology, Ensminger focuses more closely on how bargaining power and ideology are changing due to externally driven changes in relative prices (Ensminger 1992). To illustrate the approach, an example of institutional changes in African floodplain wetlands is presented.

Haller T. 2007. Understanding Institutions and Their Links to Resource Management from the Perspective of New Institutionalism. 2nd edition [20021]. NCCR North-South Dialogue 2. Bern, Switzerland: NCCR North-South.


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