The Moral Economy of Water: A Cross Cultural Study of Principles for Successfully Governing the Commons


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Few works in academia have had as much impact on policy as Hardin's (1968) attempt, in "The Tragedy of the Commons," to explain the tendency of people to overexploit the resources that they hold in common in terms of an irresolvable conflict between the selfish interests of the individual and the cooperative needs of the group. The continuing popularity of the theory reflects an ongoing crisis in the use of such resources--irrigation water, pasture lands, forests and fisheries--in many parts of the world, which Hardin thought to be inevitable. The research proposed here would refute the theory with regard to the most vital natural resource, water, by showing that local communities in many parts of the world long ago arrived, quite independently, at a sustainable solution to the 'commons dilemma', creating a set of rules and principles for sharing scarce water in an equitable and efficient manner that minimizes social conflict. Where people have managed the resource autonomously and done so effectively over a long period of time the principles of use appear to be highly similar if not exactly the same, including locally run water markets. This hypothesis, if substantiated through ethnographic fieldwork designed to clarify the logic of the principles from the perspective of the individual stakeholder, will have important implications for policy the world over and force a revision of the conventional theory that is long overdue.
Effective start/end date6/1/035/31/05


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