More than a metaphor: the evolution of the commons in the past millennium

2020 Green Templeton Lecture Series on the Future of the Commons

Thursday 23 January 2020   18:00


Professor Tine De Moor, University of Utrecht

This is the first in the 2020 Green Templeton Lecture Series on the Future of the Commons.

Over the past millennium, various institutions for collective action have played a major role in society. The historical commons, mainly restricted to pasture and woodland, are just one of the ‘archetypes’ of organisations whereby resource management and use is done collectively by a (restricted) group of members. Such collective resource management occurs with a wide range of resources in virtually all sectors, leading to social dilemmas in institutions such as guilds, collective irrigation systems, or fishing collectives. At present, Europe seems to be witnessing a new wave of citizen collectives that address problems of food, healthcare and energy provision in similar ways to the past. How do these institutions relate to each other over time? What makes them different, and how can these differences help us to improve our understanding of how they function? Can such institutions be a viable alternative governance model in our search for sustainability?

De Moor By Willeke Machiels

photo by Willeke Machiels

About the speaker:
Tine De Moor was appointed full professor of ‘Institutions of Collective Action in Historical Perspective’ at the Department of History and Art History of Utrecht University in 2012. The research of Professor De Moor and her team focuses on the emergence, functioning, and evolution of institutions for collective action, the importance historical commons may have for today’s societal issues, and the role commons may have to fill due to social gaps caused by the stepping-back of governments and failure of free market mechanisms. She is the author of The dilemma of the commoners: understanding the use of common-pool resources in long-term perspective, and contributed to the Tragedy Revisited policy forum in Science, 2018. Tine De Moor studied History at Ghent University and Environmental Sciences at the University of Antwerp.

EP Abraham Lecture Theatre
Green Templeton College
43 Woodstock Road


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About the Green Templeton Lecture Series

The Green Templeton Lectures series takes place annually. The 2020 series is convened by Research Fellow Dr Dustin Garrick on the theme of the Future of the Commons. This is the first of the 2020 Green Templeton Lectures. Other lectures in the series:
Thursday 6 February – Globalisation and the grabbed commons: new insights on the Water Wars myth
Wednesday 4 March – On the knife’s edge of tragedy and hope: markets and the commons in a divided world

The commons is a powerful metaphor for understanding human cooperation, one of the most enduring puzzles for science and society. 2020 marks the 30th anniversary of Governing the Commons, the landmark study by the late Nobel laureate, Elinor Ostrom. Ostrom and many colleagues demonstrated the potential for self-governance to avoid the collapse of shared resources, propelling a global research programme and interdisciplinary network of scholars spanning from anthropology to artificial intelligence. There are two billion more people since Ostrom’s classic, and urban populations have nearly doubled, accelerating regional and global challenges that outstrip capacity for local collective action to solve alone.  The topic of the commons has arguably never been more relevant: a Science feature in 2018 traced the growing reach of the concept from classic areas – water and land – to new frontiers of data, medicine, and other global challenges.

The lecture series will explore the commons in a world approaching peak population, deepening inequality, and growing threats to democratic forms of governance. The series will follow an arc that starts with lessons from the history of the commons, and outlines the frontiers of research and innovation.  The series will contribute to a University-wide and global dialogue on the next wave of the commons, charting emerging governance innovations for a connected world.

Type: Featured, Lectures and Seminars