Journal of Institutional Economics

Research Article

Riding in cars with boys: Elinor Ostrom's adventures with the police


a1 Department of Economics, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA, USA

a2 Political Theory Project, Brown University, Providence, RI, USA


More than 40 years ago, Elinor Ostrom began her adventures with the police. In order to combat the conventional view that ‘bigger means better’, Ostrom pioneered a fieldwork-based framework for measuring police services that utilized consumer surveys and thereby created a community-centered model of analysis for public services. In this paper, we contend that although Ostrom's career demonstrated the importance of employing multiple methods, her most enduring contributions and legacy came from on-the-ground research. Her case studies and fieldwork proved to be necessary for examining complex systems beyond the state–market dichotomy, and these methods of analysis should be defended as critical for inquiry into the variety of institutional arrangements.

(Online publication May 01 2013)


  The authors thank the F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center in George Mason University for supporting this research.