Elinor Ostrom, Army R. Poteete, and Maroc A. Janssen
This book, which is based on the several decades of research by Nobel award winning political scientist Elinor Ostrom and her talented colleages, vigorously asserts two messages with equal fervor. The first is that “it is possible for individuals to act collectively to manage shared natural resources on a sustainable basis.” (215) The second message is that the existing structure of academic disciplines in the system of higher learning deeply handicaps researchers from attaining true insights of this type. The possibility of people managing their own common pool resources through democratic and egalitarian participation was determined through research “based on field studies, laboratory and field experiments, game theory, and agent-based models,” and no discipline recognizes the legitimacy of models that span such a broad range of statistical, qualitative thick description, formal analytical and computer simulation methods.
This book shows dramatically how seriously the feudal structure of the behavioral scientific disciplines is harming our ability to advance useful knowledge in the area of social and economic policy. The well-known story of the seven wise men each exploring a different part of the elephant and coming up with seven different, equally absurd, “theories” of the creature is a fairly literal depiction of what happens when economists, sociologists, political scientists, psychologists, and anthropologists address the issue of the regulations of the commons, or virtually any other complex social problem. Each has important insights that are ignored or negated by the others. In the words of Poteete, Janssen, and Ostrom, “Unfortunately, there are still considerable `battles’ among scholars who rely on different methods or assumptions. Some scholars engaged in in-depth descriptions of cases challenge the usefulness of efforts to seek general patterns, while some who do large-N observational research do not recognize the value of case studies or experiments in untangling causal process. Likewise, scholars from different disciplines or theoretical perspectives often hold different assumptions about the world works, or disagree about priorities, both in research and in policy.” (266)
Not only researchers, but funding agencies such as NSF and NIH should be encouraged by the stunning results reported in this volume to redouble their efforts to create a truly unified and transdisciplinary ensemble of behavioral science disciplines.