Symposium and workshop on: Managing Common Resources - What is the solution?

Symposium held at Lund University, Sweden, on 10-11 September 2001.

• Aim of the symposium

• Programme for the symposium

Research papers presented, by:

• Ellen Carlsson

• Staffan Lindberg & Per Pettersson-Löfquist

• Alia Ahmad

• Thomas Malm

• Richard Palmer-Jones

The key speakers were:

• Prof. Elinor Ostrom, Arthur F. Bentley Professor of Government, Indiana University, Bloomington
• Prof. Jean-Philippe Platteau, Department of Economics, University of Namur, Belgium


• Dr. Christian Lund, International Development Studies, Roskilde University
• Prof. Christer Gunnarsson, Department of Economic History, Lund University


SASNET in collaboration with the Programme on Population and Development (PROP), the Department of Sociology, and the Department of Economics; Lund University, Sweden

Aim of the Symposium:

Current socio-economic research indicates the continuing controversies regarding the role of institutions in the management of common pool resources, more specifically, state versus market. The debate, however, has taken an interesting turn.
It is generally agreed that the management of resources with public goods characteristics cannot be left to the market, but should be entrusted to local government bodies and the community, which can more efficiently deal with the economic and demographic dynamic involved in this. Decentralisation of central government administration and collective action of community are the solutions that find support among many researchers and development practitioners.

The sceptics, however, point out that decentralisation is neither easy nor efficient in generating welfare of the community, because it often exacerbates corruption (e.g. Bardhan). Similar is the case with the collective action of community. Research (by, for example, Platteau) indicates that community failures are quite ubiquitous in traditional societies.
However, recent research by Ostrom and her colleagues on institutional analysis and development, emphasising a polycentric approach in the management of common-pool resources, provides an interesting basis for further research.

This approach takes account of both shortcomings and advantages of centralised/decentralised system and community action, and works toward a synthesis that is more pragmatic than earlier approaches.
In light of the current debate, we have invited some of the most prominent international scholars to Lund for an open discussion of theory and evidence in resource management studies.

Programme for the symposium

10 September

Presentations: Chairperson, Staffan Lindberg, Dept. of Sociology.

Elinor Ostrom: “Managing Common Resources - What is the solution?”
(Background papers for the presentation are: - Ostrom, Elinor (2000a): ‘Reformulating the Commons.’ Swiss Political Science Review 6 (1, Spring): 27-50; and Ostrom, Elinor (2000b): ‘Collective Action and the Evolution of Social Norms.’ Journal of Economic Perspectives, forthcoming) We will present the lecture on this page later on.

Jean-Philippe Platteau: “Managing Common Resources - What is the solution?”
(Background material for the presentation is: Abraham, A. and JP Platteau (2001): Participatory Development in the Presence of Endogenous Community Imperfections. Paper as a pdf-file. Dept of Economics and CRED (Centre de Recherche en Economie du Développement, University of Namur; and Platteau, Jean-Philippe (2000): Institutions, Social Norms, and Economic Development. Harwood Academic Publishers).

The discussants Christian Lund and Christer Gunnarsson gave their comments (Lund´s comments avaiable as a pdf-file) on the presentations given by Ostrom and Platteau.

Symposium: Chairperson: Alia Ahmad, Dept. of Economics
Ostrom, Platteau and the two discussant in the panel. Participation in the discussion by the audience.

11 September

Workshop on local projects on Management of Common Resources

Commentatators: Ostrom, Platteau, Gunnarsson and Lund


Ellen Carlsson: Creating a Methodological Framework for Analysing Property Right Institutions.

Staffan Lindberg and Per Pettersson-Löfquist: Seaweed and/or Tourists? Studying Conflicts over Natural Resource Use in East Zanzibar.

Alia Ahmad: An Institutional Analysis of Changes in Land Use Pattern and Water Scarcity in Dak Lak Province, Vietnam. (Will be published by NIAS, Copenhagen).

Thomas Malm: The Tragedy of the Commoners: The Decline of the Customary Marine Tenure System of Tonga.

Richard Palmer-Jones: Irrigation Service Markets in Bangladesh: Private Provision of Local Public Goods and Community Regulation..

Research Projects represented in the workshop:

1. Economic Implications of Water as a Private and Communal Resource: A
multicase study of the Meru in Tanzania and Kgatleng District, Botswana

by Ellen Carlsson, Department of Economic History, Lund University. Available as a pdf-file.

Summary: The aim of the project is to contribute to creating a better empirical and
theoretical knowledge of rules and social relations governing the rights to water resources in the two case areas. The formal, as well as the informal, institutional contexts are investigated. The study trace institutions back to the 1930s and factors driving the structural change that has occurred will be in focus. The relevance of existing property rights theory and arguments for the efficiency of different property regimes, from Harold Demsetz to Elinor Ostrom, will be tested. It is about time that experiences from Sub-Saharan Africa's property right structures are taken into account when we develop theory.

2. Seaweed or Tourists? Conflicts over Natural Resource Use in East Zanzibar
by Staffan Lindberg, Department of Sociology, Lund University and
Per Pettersson-Löfquist, Department of Social Sciences, Kalmar University College. Available as a pdf-file.

Summary: The project deals with the conflicts over natural resource use between people engaged in two different sectors of development on the East Coast of Zanzibar. Increasing tourism confronts women managed production of commercial algae in coastal waters. The conflicts are about use rights to the beach and its waters, as well as to drinking water. The specific aim is to study in detail how these conflicts are experienced and handled, primarily by members of the local community, but also how the national elite and international actors are involved. We trace existing attempts at solving these conflicts and explore new ways to ensure a socially and environmentally sustainable development.

3. An Institutional Analysis of Changes in Land Use Pattern and Water Scarcity in Dak Lak Province, Vietnam by Alia Ahmad, Associate professor of Economics, Lund University. Available as a pdf-file.

Summary: The fertile highland of Dak Lak, the largest province in Vietnam, is highly suitable for coffee production. With economic reforms in Vietnam, coffee production in Dak Lak has increased rapidly in the past ten years. But economic success in coffee production has created environmental stress such as water scarcity and deforestation, and social conflicts as a result of migration from other areas. This paper explains the causes of environmental problems in terms of institutional failure with respect to common-pool resources, and inconsistent economic policies. The study focuses on the public good characteristics of common-pool resources, and the difficulties faced by local stakeholders in reaching a collective solution.

4. Women of the Coral Gardens: A Comparative Study of Indigenous Knowledge and Marine Tenure Systems in Oceania by Thomas Malm, Department of Social Anthropology & Human Ecology Division, Lund University. Available as a pdf-file.

Summary: Indigenous knowledge and marine tenure systems are studied in five groups of Pacific islands where women's gathering of marine organisms is important and where there is an entire spectrum between marine commons with strongly restricted and totally open access. Themes in focus are how the rights to use near shore resources are regulated by customary and modern law, how subsistence roles are related to gender and the zone where the tasks are performed, and how indigenous knowledge is reflected in the gathering, uses and naming of organisms obtained by women.

5. Irrigation service markets in Bangladesh: Private Provision of Local Public Goods with Community Regulation? By Richard Palmer-Jones, School of Development Studies, University of East Anglia, UK. Available as a pdf-file. Diagrams available as a separate pdf-file
Abstract: The exploitation of groundwater for agricultural production in Bangladesh has been crucial to the agricultural growth that has enabled Bangladesh to emerge from being the 'basket case' to a sort of self-sufficiency in staple food production in the last 20 years together with significant reductions on HCR poverty.

This has come about not through the innovative aid dependent NGOs for which Bangladesh has become famous, but largely through private investment in tube wells selling irrigation services (water) to farmers of contiguous blocks of land, evidently overcoming collective action problems posed by the fragmented and unequal land holding structure, and confounding pessimistic prognoses of several political economies.

Groundwater drawn own externalities are not crucial in most areas due to the abundance of the resource. Competition in these markets can perhaps be modelled as 'contestable' and 'embedded'; disputes are regulated (perhaps imperfectly) by creative use of indigenous dispute resolution institutions and various cultural, economic, social and political resources. Poverty is reduced but the implications for inequality are not clear - but which is of greater significance?


Organising committee:
Alia Ahmed, assoc. professor, Economics
Staffan Lindberg, professor, sociology
Per Pettersson-Löfquist, lecturer, Sociology
Malin Arvidson, Sociology
Ellen Carlsson, Economic-History
Mikael Hammarskjöld, PROP
Ditte Mårtensson, PROP

Back to Conferences

Search the SASNET Web Index

SASNET - Swedish South Asian Studies Network/Lund University
Address: Scheelevägen 15 D, SE-223 63 Lund, Sweden
Phone: +46 46 222 73 40
Webmaster: Lars Eklund
Last updated 2005-04-04