Non-Fiction: The Uncommon Knowledge of Elinor Ostrom by Erik Nordman

Elinor Ostrom

From overfishing to deforestation and water rights, the natural resources we rely on are increasingly under threat from both overuse and the impacts of climate change. Conventional thinking on environmental governance holds that protecting them requires restrictions either from the government or the free market. But is there a third way forward, one that harnesses the ability of communities to successfully manage their common resources?

On the anniversary of the publication of Elinor Ostrom’s groundbreaking work Governing the Commons, Ostrom scholar Erik Nordman delivers The Uncommon Knowledge of Elinor Ostrom: Essential Lessons for Collective Action. It brings to life the ideas and research of Ostrom, whose work showing how communities can sustainably manage common resources won her a Nobel Prize in Economics. Ostrom’s revolutionary proposition fundamentally changed how we think about environmental governance.

Nordman explores how Ostrom developed her research, proving that people can and do act in collective interest. The book shows how her ideas are playing out around the globe, highlighting the inspiring work of community leaders and stakeholders who have spearheaded innovative resource-sharing systems. While expressing Ostrom’s ideas, Nordman also reveals the remarkable story of her life, from being rejected by doctoral programs because she was a woman to becoming the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2009.

Readers visit València, Spain, where a millennium-old water court resolves disputes over irrigation water and the shores of Maine, where lobster harvesters enforce informal rules to help sustainably manage lobster populations. Nordman also highlights surprising places where Ostrom’s ideas are being applied, such as how scholars are using the tools Ostrom developed in emerging areas like internet governance and cyber security.

Ostrom broke barriers at a time when women were regularly excluded from academia to conduct research that upended conventional thinking on environmental governance. Her work proves that regular people can successfully come together to sustainably manage common resources – a message of shared collective action that is more critical than ever for solving today’s most pressing challenges. ◊

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