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Mapping Concepts and Issues in the Ethics of the Commons: Introduction to the Special Issue

Abstract

We introduce the papers in this special issue by providing an overarching perspective on the variety in kinds of commons and the ethical issues stemming from their diversity. Despite a long history of local commons management, recent decades have witnessed a surge of scholarly interest in the concept of “the commons,” including a growing management literature. This swell was impelled especially by Garrett Hardin’s paper of 1968, and the body of work generated by Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues. However, the term itself has come to be used in a variety of ways. To contextualize its ethical dimensions, we map a number of commons-related concepts such as common-pool resources, common property regime, excludability and subtractability, common-pool resource types and commons or “commoning” as a source of production. Following a brief summary of papers in this special issue, the essay concludes with an identification of implications for research, practice and policy.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    The term “common” sometimes appears in the literature with the definite article (the), sometimes with the indefinite article (a), and sometimes with neither. De Moor (2011, p. 423) identifies the use with either article as the “historical “ use, referring to “a set of well-defined and circumscribed resources (usually land), with rules and sanctions attached to them.” She contrasts this with the “more recent use” without either article, and referring to “anything not privately held.” While this may be a rough guide to the way the term is used in the literature, we have found many exceptions to it, including the use in Hardin’s influential article, and have not attempted to preserve a rigorous distinction between the two uses in our text.

  2. 2.

    This figure is an adaptation of a standard table in economic literature, and used by commons’ scholars, including several we have cited (e.g. De Moor 2011, McKean 2000), in a variety of ways.

  3. 3.

    In “Critiquing Commons Scholarship” section we acknowledge the influence of Dietz et al. (2002).

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Acknowledgements

The study was supported by Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Grant No. 603-2007-0008) and Leverhulme Trust (Grant No. 218-443). We thank Murdith McLean for the revision of previous drafts as well as Arno Kourula and the anonymous reviewer for the comments they provided of this editorial essay. Part of the special Issue was developed while Camille Meyer was a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Centre for Social and Sustainable Innovation (CSSI) at the Peter B. Gustavson School of Business, University of Victoria, Canada. CSSI receives funding from Newmont Goldcorp Inc.

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Peredo, A.M., Haugh, H.M., Hudon, M. et al. Mapping Concepts and Issues in the Ethics of the Commons: Introduction to the Special Issue. J Bus Ethics 166, 659–672 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-020-04584-4

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Keywords

  • Commons
  • Ethics
  • Common property regime
  • Common-pool resources
  • Collective organizing