On the “naturalness” of the commons and the self-interested invention of the cult of Elinor Ostrom

[I]n 2009 the Swedish Academy gave the Nobel Prize in Economics to a political scientist, Elinor Ostrom, for having “challenged conventional wisdom [sic] by demonstrating how local property can be managed by a local commons without regulation by central authority or privatization.” Ostrom soon became a sort of patron saint to all those in universities who were interested in the community experience in general and the commons in particular. The central idea they took from her work is that the management of the commons requires a complex set of norms and equilibria that remain “artificial,” products of a very sophisticated social construct.

This is true, but their political-academic claim is not disinterested: when a social organization is described as “artificial” and “sophisticated,” it is implicitly being argued that it is necessary to have “special,” academic, or “technical” knowledge to make it work. Ostrom thus became excuse to argue the guardianship of groups of theoreticians and academics over the social process, with their consequent industry of advanced degrees, courses, and seminars for training “specialists.”

Read the full article at Las Indias in Englis


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