Tuesday, June 12, 2012

RIP Elinor Ostrom, 1933-2012

The resource management/economics/political science community said farewell to one of the true innovative thinkers of the past century today.  Elinor Ostrom, Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Nobel Prize winner in economics (the first woman to do so), and co-founder and Senior Research Fellow at the Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, passed away this morning in Bloomington, IN.

What is the interest of a hydrogeologist and attorney in a political scientist with a strong economics pedigree?  Well, the ground-breaking work that brought Dr. Ostrom into my realm of professional knowledge and a big part of what earned her a Nobel Prize was her work on defining the role of informal, local institutions in overcoming the Tragedy of the Commons.  One of her foundational research projects was on the importance of such institutions to effective governance of groundwater basins that functioned as common pool resources, but were managed through local informal institutions that prevented the theoretical negative outcome predicted by ToC.  This important observational work (Dr. Ostrom was well-known for taking theory and supporting/refuting it through actual field observations) has informed many of my views on the preferred methods of governance for groundwater systems.  My own career owes a huge debt to her work.

Her brilliance will live on in her work and the countless academics and practitioners who have followed in her footsteps.  Farewell.

1 comment:

John Fleck said...

Chris - Thanks for this. I've been fascinated by the range and strength of reaction from non-economists to the news of Ostrom's death. (Mine was similar to yours - her ideas are central in informing my work.) Catherine Rampell's NYT obituary I explains a bit of this. She was an outsider to the discipline of economics, just like we are.