Students compare the stories of three Mexican fishing villages to understand the factors that enabled some villages to sustainably manage their fishing resources, while others failed.
Beyond the Tragedy of the Commons
Basurto, X., & Ostrom, E. (2009). Beyond the Tragedy of the Commons. Economia Delle Fonti Di Energia e Dell’ambiente, 35–60. https://doi.org/10.3280/EFE2009-001004
- To move beyond Hardin’s tragedy of the commons, it is fundamental to avoid falling into either of two analytical and policy traps: (1) deriving and recommending “panaceas” or (2) asserting “my case is unique.” We can move beyond both traps by self-consciously building diagnostic theory to help unpack and understand the complex interrelationship between social and biophysical factors at different levels of analysis. We need to look for commonalities and differences across studies. This understanding will be augmented if the rich detail produced from case studies is used together with theory to find patterned structures among cases. In this paper, we briefly illustrate important steps of how we can go about diagnosing the emergence and sustainability of self-organization in the fishing context of the Gulf of California, Mexico. By doing so, we are able to move away from the universality proposed by Hardin and understand how two out of three fisheries were able to successfully self-organize, and why one of them continues to be robust over time.
- Concepts Social-ecological systems, Sustainable resource use
- Relevant learning goals Evaluation Competency, Interdisciplinary Thinking, Systems Thinking
- Relevant subject areas Civics, Geography, Politics, Social Studies
- Relevant research methods Case study, Field observations
Related Lesson Materials
- A major problem worldwide is the potential loss of fisheries, forests, and water resources. Understanding of the processes that lead to improvements in or deterioration of natural resources is limited, because scientific disciplines use different concepts and languages to describe and explain complex social-ecological systems (SESs). Without a common framework to organize findings, isolated knowledge does not cumulate. Until recently, accepted theory has assumed that resource users will never self-organize to maintain their resources and that governments must impose solutions. Research in multiple disciplines, however, has found that some government policies accelerate resource destruction, whereas some resource users have invested their time and energy to achieve sustainability. A general framework is used to identify 10 subsystem variables that affect the likelihood of self-organization in efforts to achieve a sustainable SES.