Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies Center for International Security and Cooperation Stanford University


Common Property Resource Management and Sustainable Societies: Review and Future Directions

MacArthur Report

David R. Faust

Published by
CISAC, October 1996

The social organization of resource access and control is one of the most important issues affecting the livelihood possibilities of rural peoples of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. "Tragedy.of the commons" models, holding that common property is destined for degradation, have been widely used to justify privatization or nationalization of commonly owned resources, often causing social disruption and environmental degradation. This paper first reviews the literature defining common property as a resource management regime and establishing that the ''tragedy of the commons" applies to open access situations, rather than common property systems. This literature also demonstrates that no single property system (state, private, or common) can be shown to be best as a means of coping with environmental risk and as a way to promote equity and provide a "social safety net." The primary conceptual and methodological contribution of the paper is to show the importance of building geography into conceptualizations of resource management questions through the concept of territoriality, and the concept of place as the nexus of social relations.· It is not only property systems that determine productivity, conservation, and equity outcomes, but also local social relations, and the location of people and their resources within the national and global political economy. Building on this discussion, the paper outlines the local group and resource characteristics and institutional designs under which common property systems are likely to be viable. Finally, the paper points to emerging research questions involving issues of power and knowledge on different scales.

Topics: India | Mexico | South America