Elinor Ostrom

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Elinor Ostrom (2009)

Elinor Ostrom (born August 7, 1933 in Los Angeles as Elinor Claire Awan , † June 12, 2012 in Bloomington , Indiana ) was an American professor of political science at Indiana University in Bloomington. She and her husband Vincent Ostrom are among the founders of the Bloomington School .

In 2009 she was the first woman to be awarded the Alfred Nobel Memorial Prize for Economics , along with Oliver E. Williamson . Ostrom has shown "how common property of user organizations can be successfully managed," said the award from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences .


Telephone interview with Elinor Ostrom

Elinor Ostrom studied political science at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and completed her studies there in 1965 with a PhD after completing a Bachelor of Arts (BA, 1954) and Master of Arts (MA, 1962) . In her doctoral thesis Public Entrepreneurship: A Case Study in Ground Water Basin Management , she analyzed strategies that public companies were using to solve the problem of saltwater contamination of groundwater in Los Angeles.

In 1973 she and her husband Vincent Ostrom founded the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University in Bloomington , which is regarded as one of the world's most important centers for commons studies . In 2006 she founded the Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity (CSID) at Arizona State University as a sister institute of the workshop. International collaborations exist primarily with the Center for Interdisciplinary Research (ZiF) in Bielefeld and the Agricultural and Horticultural Faculty of the Humboldt University in Berlin , Germany , as well as with the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics in Stockholm , Sweden .


Ostrom was recognized worldwide as a leading researcher in the field of environmental economics . She dealt with the question of how people can interact sustainably in and with ecosystems . In terms of content, she dealt with a. with the fishing industry, with irrigation systems, with forest and pasture management, in later work also with knowledge and the problem of intellectual property .

Ostrom's research dealt with the question of how people organize themselves in order to solve complex problems collectively. She analyzed how institutional rules affect the actions of individuals who are exposed to certain incentives, who (have to) make decisions, and also influence one another, and she showed workable, equitable and efficient solutions to these problems.

Governing the Commons (1990)

She became internationally known above all with her book Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action (1990), in which she deals with problems of collective action in relation to scarce natural resources that are used collectively ( commons ). She came to the conclusion that for an appropriate and sustainable management of local commons resources in many cases an institutionalized local cooperation of those affected is superior to both state control and privatization .

In an institutional economic approach, she highlighted two separate problems, on the one hand the use and on the other hand the provision of resources (problem of appropriation and provision ). Based on the analysis of numerous individual cases around the world, such as regional forms of management for high mountain pastures in Switzerland and Japan as well as irrigation systems in Spain and the Philippines, she shows successful and failed examples of the sustainable management of local commons resources in self-organization . Based on this empirical research, she developed the so-called design principles , which enable the successful management of common pool resources .

In her main work, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action , eight design principles are listed. The book was published in German in 1999 with the title The Constitution of the Commons: Beyond Market and State . The eight design principles were updated a few years later, based on which the following transfer is based:

  1. Boundaries: There are clear and locally accepted boundaries between legitimate users and non-authorized users. There are clear boundaries between a specific common resource system and a larger socio-ecological system.
  2. Congruence: The rules for appropriating and reproducing a resource correspond to local and cultural conditions. Appropriation and provision rules are coordinated with one another; the distribution of costs among users is proportional to the distribution of benefits.
  3. Collaborative decisions: Most people who are affected by a resource system can participate in decisions to determine and change the usage rules (even if many do not take this opportunity).
  4. Monitoring of users and the resource: There must be sufficient control over resources in order to prevent rule violations. Persons who are entrusted with the monitoring of the resource and its appropriation must themselves be accountable to users or to the users.
  5. Graduated sanctions: Sanctions imposed should be in reasonable proportion to the problem caused. The punishment for rule violations starts at a low level and is intensified when users break a rule several times.
  6. Conflict resolution mechanisms: Conflict resolution mechanisms must be quick, cheap and direct. There are local spaces for resolving conflicts between users and between users and authorities [e.g. B. Mediation].
  7. Recognition: A minimum level of government recognition of the right of users to determine their own rules is required.
  8. Embedded institutions (for large resource systems): When a common resource is closely linked to a large resource system, governance structures are “nested” on several levels (polycentric governance).

She also pointed out the importance of nested institutions: if a common resource is closely linked to a comprehensive socio-ecological system, then the rules are organized on many nested levels and not hierarchically.

With this book, Ostrom has succeeded in illustrating the complexity of satisfactory solutions to local resource problems and the inadequacy of simple recipes. What is shown without a doubt is that there are problems of common resources that could be solved even without the privatization of these resources and even without a solution ordered by the central government from above.




  • Peter J. Boettke (Ed.): Polycentric political economy. Essays in honor of Elinor and Vincent Ostrom . Elsevier, Amsterdam 2004 (special edition of the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 57).


  • What becomes more when we share. On the social value of the commons . With Silke Helfrich (Ed.), Oekom Verlag, Munich 2011. ISBN 978-3-86581-251-3 .
  • Management of the common good - a perspective for civic engagement [Governing a Commons from a Citizen's Perspective] . In: Silke Helfrich / Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung (ed.): Who does the world belong to? On the rediscovery of the common goods [1] , pp. 218–228, Oekom Verlag, Munich 2009. ISBN 978-3-86581-133-2 .
  • Understanding Knowledge as a Commons. From theory to practice. With Charlotte Hess (Ed.), The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts 2007, ISBN 0-262-08357-4 .
  • Trust and Reciprocity. Interdisciplinary Lessons for Experimental Research. (Elinor Ostrom and James Walker (Eds.): Russell Sage Foundation Series on Trust, Volume 6). Russell Sage Foundation, New York 2003, ISBN 0-87154-647-7 .
  • A Grammar of Institutions. With Sue ES Crawford, in: Elinor Ostrom (Ed.): Understanding Institutional Diversity. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ 2005, pp. 137-174. Originally published in: American Political Science Review . Vol. 89, No. 3, September 1995, pp. 582-600. Reprinted in: Michael McGinnis (Ed.): Polycentric Games and Institutions. Readings from the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor 2000, pp. 114-155, ISBN 0-472-06714-1 .
  • Rules, Games, and Common-Pool Resources. With James Walker and R. Gardner, Michigan University Press, Ann Arbor 1994. ISBN 0-472-06546-7 .
  • Institutional Incentives and Sustainable Development. Infrastructure Policies in Perspective. With Larry Schroeder and Susan Wynne, Westview Press, Boulder 1993, ISBN 0-8133-1619-7 .
  • Crafting Institutions for Self-Governing Irrigation Systems. ICS Press, San Francisco 1992, ISBN 1-55815-168-0 .
  • Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action [2] . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1990, ISBN 0-521-40599-8 .
    • German: The constitution of the commons: beyond state and market. Mohr, Tübingen 1999, ISBN 3-16-146916-X .
  • An Agenda for the Study of Institutions. In: Public Choice. Volume 48, No. 1, January 1986, pp. 3-25. Reprinted in: Claude Menard (Ed.): The Foundations of the New Institutional Economics. Volume 1, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, UK 2004, pp. 429-451. Reprinted in: Michael McGinnis (Ed.): Polycentric Games and Institutions. Readings from the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor 2000, pp. 89-113, ISBN 0-472-06714-1 .
  • Act instead of waiting: A multi-stage approach to overcoming the climate problem In: Leviathan - Berliner Zeitschrift für Sozialwissenschaft 39/2011, pp. 267–278, doi: 10.1007 / s11578-011-0114-1 .
  • Understanding institutional diversity. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey 2005, ISBN 0-691-12207-5 .


  • Paul Dragos Aligica , Peter J. Boettke : Challenging Institutional Analysis and Development. The Bloomington School . Routledge, London 2009, ISBN 978-0-415-77821-3 ( description ).
  • Mark Sproule-Jones: The concept of contingency and the scholarship of Elinor Ostrom on the commons . In: Journal of economic behavior & organization . tape 57 , no. 2 , 2005, ISSN  0167-2681 , p. 231-235 .
  • Marco A. Janssen: Elinor Ostrom (1933-2012) . In: Nature . tape 487 , no. 7406 , 2012, p. 172 , doi : 10.1038 / 487172a .
  • Rick K. Wilson: Elinor Ostrom (1933-2012) . In: Science . tape 337 , no. 6095 , 2012, p. 661 , doi : 10.1126 / science.1227725 .
  • Hans G. Nutzinger: Nobel Prize in Economics for Elinor Ostrom: An overview of her main economic work . In: MAGKS Discussion Paper Series in Economics . No. 24-2010 , 2010 ( uni-marburg.de [PDF; 76 kB ]).

Web links

Commons : Elinor Ostrom  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ IU community mourns passing of Distinguished Professor and Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom. Indiana University Bloomington, accessed June 12, 2012 .
  2. cf. Reported to nobelprize.org, October 12, 2009
  3. ^ E. Ostrom: Beyond Markets and States: Polycentric Governance of Complex Economic Systems. Nobel Prize Speech. Stockholm 2009. ( PDF; 2.6 MB ).
  4. S. Helfrich: Pattern of joint action. Eight landmarks for commoning. In: S. Helfrich, D. Bollier (Ed.): Die Welt der Commons. Pattern of joint action. Bielefeld 2015, pp. 55–56.
  5. Gebhard Kirchgässner: Review by Elinor Ostrom, The Constitution of the Allmende , in Political Quarterly Journal , VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Volume 43, Number 2 / June 2002, pp. 372–374
  6. ^ Deceased Fellows. British Academy, accessed July 13, 2020 .