Join 3,374 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Elinor Ostrom, scholar of the commons, RIP
June 12, 2012 11:36 AM   Subscribe

Elinor Ostrom, 1st woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics, dies at 78
posted by jhandey (31 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
NPR: "After the honor was announced, as we reported, Ostrom spoke with NPR's Michele Norris about how as a young woman she wasn't allowed to study trigonometry because she was going to be 'barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.'"


Not only was she the first woman to win the Nobel in Economics. She's the only one:
Ostrom’s research focused on common-pool resources, like fish stocks, timber, or water. CPRs are similar to public goods except that use by one individual actively depletes the supply available to everyone else, and so managing them is a delicate task of balancing access and supply. Ostrom examined the ways communities organize to solve this problem, often through agreements of common ownership or local-level regulation. Her work represented an important middle ground in public policy debates between advocates of global governance statutes to regulate natural resources, and advocates of market-based environmental policy.

Indeed, Ostrom had a piece published today – written in the last stages of her illness – arguing for such a middle ground, of an overlapping network of locally-grounded and international agreements, as a desirable outcome from the Rio +20 conference that begins next week. “Time is the natural resource in shortest supply,” she writes. It is a maxim she lived by, producing research of the highest quality until the very end. She will be missed.
.
posted by zarq at 11:42 AM on June 12, 2012


.
posted by Cash4Lead at 11:49 AM on June 12, 2012


.

(Is this an appropriate place to ask for a reading list? I know a fair bit of the British commons literature, but I need to read Ostrom for another view and haven't known where to start).
posted by jb at 11:58 AM on June 12, 2012


Ugh. I never got to meet her but she contributed to this, and her work and method has become particularly important to me over the last few years.

As Peter Levine put it when she was awarded the Nobel:
Elinor Ostrom is one of a small number of thinkers about citizenship who combine empirical insights, moral arguments, and strategies. The ideal for Lin Ostrom is a group of people who manage to overcome collective action problems, such as the “tragedy of the commons,” through voluntary action. The tragedy of the commons is enormously important–if we perish as a species, it may be because we fail to address such problems as climate change that can be understood this way. Yet Lin has shown empirically and with great rigor that people can voluntarily overcome collective-action problems–using appropriate rules and techniques, under appropriate circumstances.

Promoting such achievements requires a whole set of strategies, from constitutional and other legal provisions, to reforms of institutions, to research that reveals effective techniques, to civic education that imparts the necessary skills. As just one example of her many reform proposals, Ostrom argues that we should reverse the trend toward consolidating school districts, because each school board teaches its members participatory skills. Going beyond mere proposals, Ostrom has helped to build and lead institutions that promote and embody these ideas. The Nobel Prize will surely help endow the Workshop that she and her distinguished husband Vincent Ostrom have created.

In my ideal university, Ostrom’s methods and topics would be right at the heart of the whole enterprise. There is no more important question than “How can we improve the world?” The scarcity of really rigorous answers–not to mention the marginality of the very question–is a scandal. Ostrom’s work is a shining exception that richly deserves recognition. As one of my colleagues wrote last night, “this is the first Nobel Prize for civic studies.”
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:04 PM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


.
posted by endless_forms at 12:06 PM on June 12, 2012


.

She was a phenomenal researcher who made important contributions in microeconomics, particularly in the solutions to collective action problems how we can model strategic interaction. Her prize was well-deserved.
posted by dismas at 12:12 PM on June 12, 2012


.

Governing the Commons is one of those books that you can't unread. After you read it, you see it everywhere.
posted by roll truck roll at 12:14 PM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


.
posted by Smart Dalek at 12:20 PM on June 12, 2012


Oh, too young. She will be missed.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:27 PM on June 12, 2012


Oh, wow. I am at a loss. I'm a PhD student in this arena, and most of the faculty in my research center worked with her and/or were her students.

She was such a wonderful and inspiring person. I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with her on a couple of occasions, and despite all my nervous fumbling, trying to talk about my research interests and ideas, she was always supportive. She always finished her one-on-one discussions by reiterating that the other person's work was important and worthwhile: "Your work is important and relevant. Keep at it!"

.
posted by insert.witticism.here at 12:30 PM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


.

In one of my graduate school reading groups each week one of us had to select readings and lead discussion of our assigned topic. One week I ended up presenting on several selections from Elinor Ostrom, including Governing the Commons. The thing is, I don't remember what my topic was that week. What I remember is the clarity of Ostrom's exposition, and how reading one piece made me select other articles by her - forget my original topic, we're gonna read Ostrom!
posted by needled at 12:44 PM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I once heard someone from Indiana say that Elinor Ostrom's genius was partly due to how political she was, and it was the first time I'd ever heard anyone use the word in that way as a purely positive point of praise. This faculty member said that "Ellie" (I think that's what he called her) was someone who loved people -- she loved everyone. She loved students, other researchers, and in addition to her scientific talent which as substantial, she also possessed the ability capitalize on her love of people to create a major research institution at Indiana -- one that influenced countless students and scholars and will last long after her. She sounded like both an eminent scientist, and the kind of person you'd want to hang out with. I love the former, but I especially love the latter -- and you put them together, and it sounds great.
posted by scunning at 12:44 PM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


.
posted by stratastar at 12:54 PM on June 12, 2012


This faculty member said that "Ellie" (I think that's what he called her)

I didn't know her, but everyone I've known who did called her Lin. I've also never heard anyone who knew her personally ever offer anything but effusive praise for her.

Fucking cancer.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:03 PM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 1:20 PM on June 12, 2012


I didn't know her, but everyone I've known who did called her Lin. I've also never heard anyone who knew her personally ever offer anything but effusive praise for her.

Lin. That was it. I knew she had a nickname, but couldn't remember exactly what it was.
posted by scunning at 1:55 PM on June 12, 2012


.

I encountered her in helping to edit an issue of Grassroots Economic Organizing journal which celebrated her work and that of those in the Ostrom Workshop - Collective Action: Research, Practice, and Theory. Perhaps a decent introduction for the lay reader is this interview of Ostrom by Fran Korten. Seemed like quite an amazing person.

As a worker in a cooperative business, and not a theorist, one concept she introduced me to that really hit home was the utility of public shaming among those sharing a common pool. I think a lot of participants in cooperatives are concerned about muddying group relations with something as debased or manipulative as peer pressure - and instead aspire to some sort of disinterested democratic marketplace of ideas. It was edifying to hear that a brilliant economist was emphasizing the cultural elements of a commons, including shaming and discouraging negative behaviors, can actually be helpful to maintaining shared aims and resources. Very humanizing.
posted by ioesf at 1:56 PM on June 12, 2012


.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 2:11 PM on June 12, 2012


She was obviously pretty great. But I have to point out here that the prize in Economics is not a real Nobel prize.
posted by overhauser at 2:34 PM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, you really don't. We're all aware of what that prize is, and you've raised a distinction without a difference.
posted by found missing at 2:39 PM on June 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


By that token, we can also point out that the purpose of the "real" Nobels is to make the Nobel family feel better about murdering the large number of people who've had the bad luck to be on the wrong end of ballistite or a Bofors product.

The economics prize, on the other hand, was created by the nice Swedish government and supported by the Swedish central bank.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:00 PM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


the riksbank is of course the world's oldest central bank and is moving towards a cashless economy...
posted by kliuless at 4:19 PM on June 12, 2012


She took ideas of economics - especially (of course) the Tragedy of the Commons - and turned them on their heads. In so doing, she showed economists that while they were great at theorizing, they were shit at actually describing or analyzing human behavior. She was the anti-economist, and she was awesome for it. Her 1997 presidential address to the American Political Science Association (need jstor access) turned rational choice theory inside out by claiming that collective interest is self interest.

Good lady, that one. I never met her, but I will admire her forever.
posted by blueberry sushi at 4:52 PM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


A tragic loss to the commons

.
posted by jonp72 at 4:58 PM on June 12, 2012


(Is this an appropriate place to ask for a reading list? I know a fair bit of the British commons literature, but I need to read Ostrom for another view and haven't known where to start).

I feel like I'm always, more or less, asking for the reading list either right after the obit, or a month before.

Rules, games, and common-pool resources is a real good one, but it can get pretty mathy. The first time I read any Elinor Ostrom was last year, a while after I read Herman Daly's Ecological Economics, which overlaps somewhat, and gives a gentler introduction to some of the themes that Ostrom talks about.
posted by wormwood23 at 5:10 PM on June 12, 2012


.
posted by ropeladder at 8:02 PM on June 12, 2012


.
posted by rabbitfufu at 8:18 PM on June 12, 2012


.
posted by tychotesla at 10:41 PM on June 12, 2012


Springer has opened access to some of her papers.
posted by stratastar at 11:42 AM on June 13, 2012


Also the NYtimes has put together a nice reading list
posted by stratastar at 3:56 PM on June 13, 2012


I didn't know her, but everyone I've known who did called her Lin.

Obit from the Indiana Daily Student: Losing "Lin". "The thing you have to understand is everyone knew her as Lin."
posted by endless_forms at 1:04 PM on June 15, 2012


« Older Salon writer, Erik Nelson, compares The Outlaw Jos...  |  "Niggas" in Practice... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments