731137 Working together - Collective action for adaptive natural resource management

Lecture and seminar
Semester hours
Lecturer (assistant)
Quinones-Ruiz, Xiomara-Fernanda , Okonkwo-Klampfer, Karin
Offered in
Wintersemester 2021/22
Languages of instruction


It is not a new story that the management of natural resource is confronted with many challenges around the globe. Over-use and exploitation of natural resources as well as an imbalanced allocation of benefits and burdens derived from natural resources between the global North and global South, between rural and urban areas and different societal groups are only some of the challenges.
Is it possible for humans to get together and collectively change the structures of natural resource management? How can individual join efforts for an adaptive natural resource management? Scholars such Olson (1965) argued that groups do not necessarily come together to obtain shared outcomes or benefits; depending on individual interests and group size, benefits might be accrued by the most influential individual or minorities. Later on, Hardin (1968) referred to the tragedy of the commons and related the degradation of the environment to the failure of collective use of scarce common resources. Nonetheless, numerous empirical studies have confirmed that collective action for sustainable resource management can be sustained over long times (Ostrom 1990). Instead of asking if long-term collective action is possible or not, scholars started to pose the question: “how a group of principals who are in an interdependent situation can organise and govern themselves to obtain continuing joint benefits when all face temptations to free-ride, shirk, or otherwise act opportunistically?” (Ostrom 1990, 29).
Thus, frameworks have been developed and improved to be able to answer this question. For instance, based on the eight design principles, the Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) and the Social-Ecological Systems (SES) frameworks have been elaborated in a more non-static (dynamic) way (see Poteete et al., 2010; Ostrom 2011; Anderies and Janssen 2013). Furthermore, it is widely assumed that the formation of social capital can be seen as a potential means to develop collective actions. Woolcock (1998, 155) defines social capital thus as “the norms and networks facilitating collective action for mutual benefit”, however, this approach is challenged as critics argue that the causality between collective action and social capital is not easy to find and that the mere existence of common institutions (rules) does not automatically lead to collective action. Ishihara and Pascual (2009) propose a more culture-and-power-sensitive concept of “common knowledge”. The core message is that social capital stimulates the creation of common knowledge and social learning processes that depending on the context and degree of power relationships might be shared to produce functioning collective action for adaptive change (García-Amado et al. 2010).
In this line of thought, students are encouraged to continue and extent the debate and identify alternatives, lessons learned, practices, failures or successes aimed to enhance the complex relationships between collective human action and the adaptive management of natural resources.

Objective (expected results of study and acquired competences)

• Students are able to recall, understand and compare concepts dealing with collective action and resource management (e.g., collective action theories, commons theories, transition theory, social capital).
• Students can apply theories to critically analyze real world collective action situations relevant for natural resource management (such as agricultural cooperatives, social movements like citizen solar power plants, food coops or community supported agriculture, water user committees, urban gardening associations, green NGOs, sustainability and other participatory processes …).
• Students are able to highlight case studies that portray good practices and failure of collective action and derive lessons learned for adaptive natural resource management.
You can find more details like the schedule or information about exams on the course-page in BOKUonline.