I am interested in examining the role social norms/identities play in shaping actor behavior, particularly in the context of global commons. I am intrigued by the question of whether the competitive (and ultimately destructive) self-gain patterns theorized in the Tragedy of the Commons need be considered inevitable or whether different conceptions of culture, self, norms, and property/ownership might influence consumption patterns of shared resources. On a more meta-level, I am really curious as to why actors do the things they do, as I am not completely satisfied with realist or liberal conceptions of self-gain as a sufficient explanatory variable on its own. Whether my research happens to apply this problem to commons or any other case, I am most excited to understand this “puzzle” of international and human/sociopolitical conduct.
Because I considered my research on the topic of the Tragedy of the Commons tentative, I have read broadly over the summer. Firstly, I have of course read foundational texts like Garrett Hardin’s frequently cited article in Science “The Tragedy of the Commons” and then sought to understand the surrounding discourse via “Property in the Commons: Origins and Paradigms” which contextualized the previous work and describes the ongoing conversations of the topic and relevant conceptions of property.A few questions that came to mind, especially in light of class readings/discussions on situated/transcendent knowledge, include the observation that the concept of the Tragedy of the Commons is very much tethered to the specific context from which it was derived, namely Europe/England. Hardin cites William Forster Lloyd’s lectures in 1833 in Oxford where he discusses hypothetical herders who each endeavor to “rationally” maximize self-gain and thus inevitably deplete the common pastures.In citing this, the argument Hardin makes nods to privatization as a necessary solution to offset the selfishness intrinsic to the human condition. Needless to say, this “evidence” is not sufficiently problematized, distinctly echoing Abbot’s definition of semantic explanation where things are – for a lack of a better word – “reduced” to the “final realms” of explanation where we take things as plainly “true”. For instance, in the Tragedy of the Commons, “[t]hey go no further because they think selfish behavior is self-evident; it needs no explanation”.This factor, among others such as differences in social norms/identities, cultures, property and varying access to the resources (commons or otherwise) by individuals, begin to further flesh out my aforementioned “puzzle”.
In keeping with my curiosity about actor behavior and the problematization of motive, I find it relevant to briefly mention my readings on the alternative topic of human rights intervention, including Mutua’s “Savages, Victims, and Saviors” which inspects the discursive frameworks that justify human rights intervention.
Hardin, Garrett. “The Tragedy of the Commons.” Science162, no. 3859 (December 13, 1968): 1243–48.
Obeng-Odoom, Franklin. “Property in the Commons.” Review of Radical Political Economics48, no. 1 (September 2015): 9–19. https://doi.org/10.1177/0486613415586976.
Abbott, Andrew. Methods of Discovery: Heuristics for the Social Sciences. New York: Norton, 2004. Page 9.
Lloyd, William Forster. Two Lectures on the Checks to Population. Oxford University, 1833.
Abbott, Andrew. Methods of Discovery: Heuristics for the Social Sciences. New York: Norton, 2004.Page 50-51.
Mutua, Makau W. “Savages, Victims, and Saviors: The Metaphor of Human Rights.” Harvard International Law Journal42, no. 1 (2001): 201–45.