Human Ecology

, Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 43–66

Closing the Commons: Cooperation for Gain or Restraint?

  • Lore M. Ruttan

DOI: 10.1023/A:1018744816814

Cite this article as:
Ruttan, L.M. Human Ecology (1998) 26: 43. doi:10.1023/A:1018744816814


Research concerning the value of communal resource management is limited in two respects. First, while many studies present evidence that communal management is common among traditional societies, a strong theoretical basis is lacking to explain why individuals participate in monitoring and sanctioning efforts. Second, few studies have actually demonstrated resource conservation. There are several ecological and economic reasons for thinking that groups may find it harder to design appropriate conservation measures than to prevent free-riding. However, if groups can surmount these problems, communal management may have advantages over privatization or government control. These arguments are illustrated using results from a pilot study of the communal management of mother-of-pearl shell (Trochus niloticus) in the Kei Islands of Eastern Indonesia. It is found that villagers successfully cooperate to defend access to, and regulate their own harvest of trochus. In doing so, they are able to prevent free-riding, and to provide themselves with a long-term source of cash income. However, it is here argued that their aim is “gain rather than restraint.”


Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1998

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  • Lore M. Ruttan

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