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Elinor Ostrom

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Elinor Ostrom

Elinor Ostrom
Born (1933-08-07)August 7, 1933
Los Angeles, California,
United States
Died June 12, 2012(2012-06-12) (aged 78)
Bloomington, Indiana,
United States
Nationality American
School or tradition
New institutional economics
Alma mater UCLA
Influenced Clark Gibson
Spouses Charles Scott
Vincent Ostrom (1965–2012; her death)
Information at IDEAS / RePEc

Elinor Claire "Lin" Ostrom (August 7, 1933 – June 12, 2012) was an American political economist[1][2][3] whose work was associated with the New Institutional Economics and the resurgence of political economy.[4] In 2009, she shared the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences with Oliver E. Williamson for "her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons". To date, she remains the only woman to win The Prize in Economics.

After graduating with a B.A. and Ph.D. from UCLA, Ostrom lived in Bloomington, Indiana, and served on the faculty of both Indiana University and Arizona State University. She held the rank of Distinguished Professor at Indiana University and was the Arthur F. Bentley Professor of Political Science and Co-Director of the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University, as well as Research Professor and the Founding Director of the Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity at Arizona State University in Tempe. She was a lead researcher for the Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resource Management Collaborative Research Support Program (SANREM CRSP), managed by Virginia Tech and funded by USAID.[5] Beginning in 2008, she and her husband Vincent Ostrom advised the journal Transnational Corporations Review.[6]


  • Personal life and education 1
  • Career 2
  • Research 3
    • Design principles for Common Pool Resource (CPR) institutions 3.1
    • Environmental protection 3.2
    • Ostrom's Law 3.3
  • Awards 4
    • Nobel Prize in Economics 4.1
  • Death 5
  • Selected publications 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10

Personal life and education

Elinor Claire Awan was born in Los Angeles, California as the only child of Leah Hopkins, a musician, and Adrian Awan, a set designer.[7][8] Her parents separated early in her life, and Elinor lived with her mother most of the time.[9] She attended a Protestant church with her mother and often spent weekends with her father's Jewish family.[7][10] Growing up in the post-Depression era to divorced artisans, Ostrom described herself as a "poor kid."[9][11]

Ostrom graduated from Beverly Hills High School in 1951 and then received a B.A. (with honors) in political science at UCLA in 1954, graduating in three years.[12] She married a classmate, Charles Scott, and worked at General Radio in Cambridge, Massachusetts while Scott attended Harvard Law School.[7] They divorced several years later when Ostrom began contemplating a PhD.[7][13]

Because she had been dissuaded from pursuing mathematics, Ostrom was rejected for an economics PhD at UCLA. She was admitted to UCLA's graduate program in political science, where she was awarded an M.A. in 1962 and a PhD in 1965.[12] She married political scientist Vincent Ostrom in 1963, whom she met while assisting his research on water resource governance in Southern California.[8] They moved to Bloomington, Indiana in 1965 when Vincent accepted a political science professorship at Indiana University.[14] She joined the faculty as Visiting Assistant Professor, teaching a course in American Government.[7][15]


In 1973, Ostrom and her husband founded the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University.[16] Examining the use of political science, and public administration.


Ostrom's early work emphasized the role of public choice on decisions influencing the production of public goods and services.[18] Among her better known works in this area is her study on the polycentricity of police functions in the Greater St. Louis areas.[19] Her later, and more famous, work focused on how humans interact with ecosystems to maintain long-term sustainable resource yields. Common pool resources include many forests, fisheries, oil fields, grazing lands, and irrigation systems. She conducted her field studies on the management of pasture by locals in Africa and irrigation systems management in villages of western Nepal (e.g., Dang). Her work has considered how societies have developed diverse institutional arrangements for managing natural resources and avoiding ecosystem collapse in many cases, even though some arrangements have failed to prevent resource exhaustion. Her work emphasized the multifaceted nature of human–ecosystem interaction and argues against any singular "panacea" for individual social-ecological system problems.[20]

Design principles for Common Pool Resource (CPR) institutions

Ostrom identified eight "design principles" of stable local common pool resource management:[21]

  1. Clearly defined boundaries (clear definition of the contents of the common pool resource and effective exclusion of external un-entitled parties);
  2. Rules regarding the appropriation and provision of common resources that are adapted to local conditions;
  3. Collective-choice arrangements that allow most resource appropriators to participate in the decision-making process;
  4. Effective monitoring by monitors who are part of or accountable to the appropriators;
  5. A scale of graduated sanctions for resource appropriators who violate community rules;
  6. Mechanisms of conflict resolution that are cheap and of easy access;
  7. Self-determination of the community recognized by higher-level authorities; and
  8. In the case of larger common-pool resources, organization in the form of multiple layers of nested enterprises, with small local CPRs at the base level.

These principles have since been slightly modified and expanded to include a number of additional variables believed to affect the success of internal trust and reciprocity, and the nature of the resource system as a whole.[22]

Ostrom and her many co-researchers have developed a comprehensive "Social-Ecological Systems (SES) framework", within which much of the still-evolving theory of common-pool resources and collective self-governance is now located.[23]

Environmental protection

According to the Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research, "Ostrom cautioned against single governmental units at global level to solve the collective action problem of coordinating work against environmental destruction. Partly, this is due to their complexity, and partly to the diversity of actors involved. Her proposal was that of a polycentric approach, where key management decisions should be made as close to the scene of events and the actors involved as possible."[24]

Ostrom's Law

Ostrom's Law is an adage that represents how Elinor Ostrom's works in economics challenge previous theoretical frameworks and assumptions about property, especially the commons. Ostrom's detailed analyses of functional examples of the commons create an alternative view of the arrangement of resources that are both practically and theoretically possible. This eponymous law is stated succinctly by Lee Anne Fennell as:

A resource arrangement that works in practice can work in theory.[25]


Ostrom was a member of the United States National Academy of Sciences[15] and past president of the American Political Science Association and the Public Choice Society. In 1999, she became the first woman to receive the prestigious Johan Skytte Prize in Political Science.[26]

Ostrom was awarded the Frank E. Seidman Distinguished Award for Political Economy in 1998. Her presented paper, on "The Comparative Study of Public Economies",[27] was followed by a discussion among Kenneth Arrow, Thomas Schelling and Amartya Sen. She was awarded the John J. Carty Award from the National Academy of Sciences in 2004,[28] and, in 2005, received the James Madison Award by the American Political Science Association. In 2008, she became the first woman to receive the William H. Riker Prize in political science; and, the following year, she received the Tisch Civic Engagement Research Prize from the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University. In 2010, the Utne Reader magazine included Ostrom as one of the "25 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World".[29] She was named one of Time magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the World" in 2012.

The International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) awarded its Honorary Fellowship to her in 2002.

In 2008 she was awarded an honorary degree, doctor honoris causa, at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.[30]

Nobel Prize in Economics

Telephone interview with Elinor Ostrom.

In 2009, Ostrom became the first woman to receive the prestigious Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences cited Ostrom "for her analysis of economic governance", saying her work had demonstrated how common property could be successfully managed by groups using it. Ostrom and Oliver E. Williamson shared the 10-million Swedish kronor (£910,000; $1.44 million) prize for their separate work in economic governance.[31] As she had done with previous monetary prizes, Ostrom donated her award to the Workshop she helped to found.[9][32]

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said Ostrom's "research brought this topic from the fringe to the forefront of scientific showing how common resources – forests, fisheries, oil fields or grazing lands – can be managed successfully by the people who use them rather than by governments or private companies". Ostrom's work in this regard challenged conventional wisdom, showing that common resources can be successfully managed without government regulation or privatization.[33]


Ostrom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in October 2011.[34][35] During the final year of her life, she continued to write and lecture, giving the Hayek Lecture at the Institute of Economic Affairs just eleven weeks before her death.[9] She died on June 12, 2012, at the age of 78.[36] Her husband Vincent died 17 days later.[8] On the day of her death, she published her last article, "Green from the Grassroots," in Project Syndicate.[37][38] Indiana University president Michael McRobbie wrote: "Indiana University has lost an irreplaceable and magnificent treasure with the passing of Elinor Ostrom".[39]

Selected publications


  • Ostrom, Elinor (1990). Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.  
  • Ostrom, Elinor; Schroeder, Larry; Wynne, Susan (1993). Institutional incentives and sustainable development: infrastructure policies in perspective. Boulder: Westview Press.  
  • Ostrom, Elinor; Walker, James; Gardner, Roy (1994). Rules, games, and common-pool resources. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.  
  • Ostrom, Elinor; Walker, James (2003). Trust and reciprocity: interdisciplinary lessons from experimental research. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.  
  • Ostrom, Elinor (2005). Understanding institutional diversity. Princeton: Princeton University Press.  
  • Ostrom, Elinor;  
  • Ostrom, Elinor; Hess, Charlotte (2007). Understanding knowledge as a commons: from theory to practice. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.  

Chapters in books

  • Ostrom, Elinor (2009), "Engaging with impossibilities and possibilities", in  

Journal articles

  • Ostrom, Elinor; Crawford, Sue E. S. (September 1995). "A grammar of institutions". American Political Science Review (American Political Science Association via JSOR) 89 (3): 582–600.  
  • Ostrom, Elinor (March 1998). "A behavioral approach to the rational choice theory of collective action: Presidential address, American Political Science Association, 1997". American Political Science Review (American Political Science Association via JSTOR) 92 (1): 1–22.  
  • Ostrom, Elinor (June 2010). "Beyond markets and states: polycentric governance of complex economic systems". American Economic Review (American Economic Association) 100 (3): 641–672. Pdf version.  

See also


  1. ^ "No Panaceas! Elinor Ostrom talks with Fran Korten". Shareable: Civic System. March 18, 2010. Retrieved February 20, 2011. 
  2. ^ Janssen, M. A. (2012). "Elinor Ostrom (1933–2012)". Nature 487 (7406): 172.  
  3. ^ Wilson, R. K. (2012). "Elinor Ostrom (1933-2012)". Science 337 (6095): 661–661.  
  4. ^ Aligica, Paul Dragos; Boettke, Peter (2010). "Ostrom, Elinor".  
  5. ^ "Researcher for Virginia Tech program wins Nobel Prize". Virginia Tech. Retrieved January 2, 2011. 
  6. ^ "Transnational Corporations Review". 
  7. ^ a b c d e Leonard, Mike (6 December 2009). "Nobel winner Elinor Ostrom is a gregarious teacher who loves to solve problems". The Herald-Times (Bloomington, Indiana). Archived from the original on 15 April 2015. Retrieved 15 April 2015. 
  8. ^ a b c "Elinor Ostrom". The Telegraph (London). 13 June 2012. Retrieved 15 April 2015. 
  9. ^ a b c d  
  10. ^ "The story of non-economist Elinor Ostrom". The Swedish Wire. December 9, 2009. Retrieved June 12, 2010. 
  11. ^ "Elinor Ostrom".  
  12. ^ a b McKay, Bonnie J.; Bennett, Joan (2014). Biographical Memoir of Elinor Ostrom (1933–2012) (PDF). National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 15 April 2015. 
  13. ^ Harford, Tim (30 August 2013). "Do You Believe in Sharing?". Financial Times. Archived from the original on 15 July 2014. Retrieved 15 April 2015. 
  14. ^ Woo, Elaine (13 June 2012). "Elinor Ostrom dies at 78; first woman to win Nobel in economics".  
  15. ^ a b Zagorski, Nick (2006). "Profile of Elinor Ostrom". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103 (51).  
  16. ^ "The Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis". Retrieved October 13, 2009. 
  17. ^ Mitchell, W. C. (1988). "Virginia, Rochester, and Bloomington: Twenty-five years of public choice and political science". Public Choice 56 (2): 101–119.  
  18. ^ "Polycentricity and Local Public Economies". Retrieved 2013-02-08. 
  19. ^
  20. ^ "Beyond the tragedy of the commons". Stockholm Whiteboard Seminars. 2009-04-03. Retrieved 2013-03-23. 
  21. ^ Ostrom, Elinor (1990). Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action.  
  22. ^ Poteete, Janssen, and Elinor Ostrom (2010). Working Together: Collective Action, the Commons, and Multiple Methods in Practice. Princeton University Press. 
  23. ^ Ostrom, E. (2009). "A General Framework for Analyzing Sustainability of Social-Ecological Systems". Science 325 (5939): 419–422.  
  24. ^ Vedeld, Trond. 2010, February 12. "A New Global Game – And How Best to Play It," The NIBR International Blog.
  25. ^ Fennell, Lee Anne (Mar 2011). "Ostrom’s Law: Property rights in the commons". International Journal of the Commons 5 (1): 9–27.  
  26. ^ "The Johan Skytte Prize in Political Science – Prize Winners". 
  27. ^ "Frank E. Seidman Award: Acceptance Paper". Retrieved 2013-02-08. 
  28. ^ "John J. Carty Award for the Advancement of Science". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved February 25, 2011. 
  29. ^ "Elinor Ostrom: The Commoner". Utne Reader. Retrieved October 19, 2010. 
  30. ^ "Honorary doctors at NTNU". Norwegian University of Science and Technology. 
  31. ^ "First woman wins economics Nobel". BBC News. 12 October 2009. Retrieved 15 April 2015. 
  32. ^  
  33. ^ Rampell, Catherine (13 June 2012). "Elinor Ostrom, Winner of Nobel in Economics, Dies at 78". New York Times. Retrieved 15 April 2015. 
  34. ^ Daniel Cole (June 13, 2012). "obituary". London: Guardian. Retrieved 2013-03-23. 
  35. ^ Stokes, Kyle (13 June 2012). "How IU Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom Changed the World". StateImpact. Indiana Public Media. Retrieved 23 March 2013. 
  36. ^ Guyett, Susan (12 June 2012). "Elinor Ostrom dies, Nobel-winning economist". Reuters. Retrieved 15 April 2015. 
  37. ^  
  38. ^ Ostrom, Elinor. "Green from the Grassroots". Project Syndicate. 
  39. ^ "Elinor Ostrom, Only Female Nobel Laureate in Economics, Dies". Wall Street Journal. 12 June 2012. 

Further reading

  • Aligica, Paul Dragos;  
  • Ostrom, Vincent and Elinor Ostrom. "Rethinking Institutional Analysis: Interviews with Vincent and Elinor Ostrom." By Paul Dragos Aligica. Interview, Mercatus Center at George Mason University, 2003.
  • Auer, Matthew (August 2014). "Collective Action and the Evolution of Social Norms: The Principled Optimism of Elinor Ostrom.". Journal of Natural Resources Policy Research (Taylor & Francis) 6 (4): 265–271.  

External links

  • "Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action", published in Ukraine.
  • On Collaboration Elinor Ostrom speaks on BBC The Forum
  • The Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University.
    • Elinor Ostrom Curriculum Vitae
  • Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity at Arizona State University
  • No Panaceas! Elinor Ostrom Talks with Fran Korten
  • Beyond Markets and States: Polycentric Governance of Complex Economic Systems, 2009 lecture at
  • Works by or about Elinor Ostrom in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  • Elinor Ostrom news, photos and videos from the The Herald-Times, Bloomington, Indiana.
  • Profile at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS).
  • Video of Annual Reviews Conversations Interview with Elinor Ostrom (2011).
  • Dr Elinor "Lin" Ostrom at Find a Grave
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