Journal of Institutional Economics

Research Article

Two enduring lessons from Elinor Ostrom


Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University, New York, NY 10003, USA


This article is a tribute to Elinor Ostrom. It explores two enduring lessons she taught: a substantive lesson that involves embracing complexity and context, and a methodological lesson that involves embracing a framework-driven approach to systematic, evolutionary learning through various interdisciplinary methodologies, theories, and empirical approaches. First, I discuss Ostrom's work on environmental commons. I illustrate the two lessons through a discussion of the tragedy of the commons. Next, I explain how the two lessons play a significant role in recent efforts to extend Ostrom's work on environmental commons to knowledge/cultural commons. I draw a parallel between the tragedy of the commons allegory and the free-rider allegory, and show how many of the problems Ostrom explored in the environmental context are manifest in the cultural environmental context. I discuss an ongoing research project that follows the path that Ostrom blazed and systematically studies commons in the cultural environment.

(Online publication April 10 2013)




  The author wishes to thank the editor-in-chief, two anonymous referees, Michael Burstein, Daniel Cole, Michael Madison, Al Roundtree, Charles Schweik, Alex Stein, and Katherine Strandburg for their constructive comments and suggestions. The usual disclaimer applies.