Research Portfolio Post #2: Mentor Meeting

I met with Professor Scott Freeman on Wednesday, September 11 for roughly 20 to 30 minutes. Professor Boesenecker had already recommended Ostrom’s “Governing the Commons” and I was eager to further expand the readings I was doing.[1]Professor Freeman proved to be an immense help in doing so and was a great resource as I begin familiarizing myself with the conversation(s) and puzzles in my topic. We started by discussing how research was to be approached this semester (ie: I would “try on the hats” of both neo-positivist and interpretivist research and would therefore benefit from consuming diverse types of data). Because of the fact that I would need “cases” for both case research as well as interpretivist study, and also because it is essential to investigate concrete instances of commons and their use, Professor Freeman and I spoke at length about specific locations and time periods that could be examined. I already had rough preliminary sketches of places that I might be interested in looking at, but was curious about how cases would even be selected and the way that the definition of “commons” itself would necessarily influence what qualifies for study. The conversation was much more conceptual than it was methodological. We did not particularly discuss how cases themselves would be selected (and which ones would and would not) but rather simply considered different viewpoints of what qualifies as commons (and whether commons could be defined that way if they are excludable).

Ultimately, what ensued was a very informative conceptual foundation that began raising further questions as well as situating them within the context of those asked by other scholars. For instance, in a very basic sense, we identified major points discussed such as population (which could be a control variable across cases) and government/market/institutional action. If a puzzle is whether Tragedy of the Commons is inevitable should humans be left to their own devices, such a question should be answered having controlled for things such as population size and relative size of the commons being consumed, technological capacity (ie: people with industrial capacities will be able to exploit a resource at a significantly larger scale than those who do not have these capacities), and other relevant variables.

We also generally mapped out the scholarly conversation insofar as mentioning the two main camps/approaches/bodies of literature being an economic perspective on the commons (Ostrom) and political ecology. Under the latter, a wealth of disciplines operate by introducing the crucial variable of power, with a critical subset that includes anthropology and geography. We discussed briefly some of the assumptions and the different kinds of knowledge/data generated by the two larger approaches and generally had a very thought-provoking meeting, ending in the recommendation of a fascinating reading of locally-controlled fisheries in Mexico which looked at practices, pressures, and rituals of land use in commons.[2]Currently, we are in correspondence as Professor Freeman is emailing me further notable authors for study. All in all, the meeting with my mentor went really well and was very productive.



[1]Ostrom, Elinor. Governing the Commons: the Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

[2] Basurto, Xavier. 2005. How Locally Designed Access and Use Controls Can Prevent the Tragedy of the Commons in a Mexican Small-Scale Fishing Community. Society and Natural Resources 18(7): 643–659.

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