Integrating Institutional and Culturo-Behavioral Analyses in the Management of Common Pool Resources: Application to an Inland Lake in Michigan


The “tragedy of the commons” describes the depletion of resources when appropriated by a group of people acting individually. Since the phenomenon was described by Hardin (1968, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” Science, 162, 1243–1248), scholars have agreed that the only ways to avoid depletion of resources are private ownership and external governmental control. Elinor Ostrom (2005, Understanding Institutional Diversity, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press) identified a 3rd solution to the tragedy of the commons. She analyzed multiple small communities lasting hundreds and even thousands of years in which the appropriators themselves managed their common pool resources without external governmental control or privatization. Later, Ostrom developed additional principles to analyze more complex social systems. We integrate behavioral and cultural selection perspectives with her work. We analyze appropriators’ management of common pool resources in terms of metacontingencies and macrocontingencies operating within larger systems. As an illustration, we applied the integration of Ostrom’s institutional framework and culturo-behavioral selection perspectives to appropriators’ management of invasive species in an inland lake in Michigan. The appropriators were residents who formed part of a nonprofit association dedicated to sustaining the welfare of their lake. We concluded that the 2 perspectives are complementary and helpful in the management of common pool resources.

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We thank the following members of Delton Crooked Lake Association for their invaluable input to the authors of this article: Jim Minich, board president; Kathy Mutschler, chair of the Lake Preservation Committee, also known as the “Weed Queen”; and Thomas Breznau, member, who also kindly offered comments on an earlier version of this article. We are grateful to the Behavior Analysis Online program at the University of North Texas for financial and logistical support of Think Tank 5 on Cultural Studies, held in Denton, Texas, April 2–5, 2018. We also thank Think Tank 5 participants for their contributions to a discussion of the presentation on which this article is based. Finally, a special thanks goes to those Think Tank 5 participants in the common pool resource subgroup who have provided feedback throughout the development of this article: Aécio Borba (Universidade Federal de Parma), Roberta Lemos (Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine), Angelo Sampaio (Universidade Federal do Vale do São Francisco), and Laercia Vasconcelos (University of Brasilia).

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Correspondence to Maria E. Malott.

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Malott, M.E., Glenn, S.S. Integrating Institutional and Culturo-Behavioral Analyses in the Management of Common Pool Resources: Application to an Inland Lake in Michigan. Behav. Soc. Iss. 28, 248–268 (2019) doi:10.1007/s42822-019-00014-x

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  • Metacontingencies
  • Macrocontingencies
  • Macrobehavior
  • Culturant
  • Institutional analysis
  • Elinor Ostrom
  • Common pool resources