Elinor Ostrom’s pragmatism.
13 May 2018
Elinor Ostrom’s pragmatism:4:30pm, May 29th, 2018 Bush House North East Wing, Kings College, University of London
‘He was, indeed, in the habit of always comparing what he heard or read with an already familiar canon, and felt his admiration quicken if he could detect no difference. This state of mind is by no means to be ignored, for applied, to political conversations, to the reading of newspapers, it forms public opinion and thereby makes possible the greatest events in history.’ (Proust 2000: 469)
Proust, M. (2000) In Search of Lost Time: III The Guermantes Way. Vintage Books, London.
I am speaking at Kings College on 29th May on Elinor Ostrom. I am hoping that lots of people come along and we can have a good discussion, I have tried to pick a topic that goes beyond what people may already know about Elinor Ostrom and tried to move things on from what I have written about her before in my intellectual biography The Sustainable Economics of Elinor Ostrom and my account of Elinor Ostrom’s Rules for Radicals.
I will try to situate her approach, to explain a way of understanding where her work comes from and how it relates to the work of other thinkers and traditions. Elinor Ostrom, as is obvious, to those who have read her work or may have even met her was a complex, diverse and, above all, unusual thinker. What I am especially concerned to do is to situate her as a pragmatic thinker and to show that while we can never escape ideology and ideological readings of her work are tempting, her pragmatism makes her particularly interesting and important. Pragmatism, of course, can never be separated from ideology but my point is that if we come to a thinker in the spirit of Proust’s words, looking for confirmation of our pre-existing beliefs and biases, this may be unproductive.
Here I will introduce Elinor Ostrom’s work, if you are already familiar you can probably skip this. I will suggest that she is a difficult thinker to ‘situate’, she doesn’t quite fit in with an established cannon or tradition, there is always an excess or supplement or contradiction in placing her.
I will go on to look at the fact that ideological readings of her work can be tempting.
I will outline briefly that while viewing her as liberal thinker how Paul Dragos Alligica shows to my mind quite convincingly that she has a strong affinity with the American philosopher John Dewey.
WHO WAS ELINOR OSTROM.
Elinor Ostrom (1933-2012) was the first and so far the only woman to win a Nobel Prize in economics. Strictly speaking there is no specific economics nobel but the Swedish Royal Bank Prize is by convention described as such! She was awarded it, sharing with another institutional economist Williamson, for her work on commons. Commons are collectively owned resources. In 1968 the biologist Garrett Hardin published The Tragedy of the Commons in the journal Science. He suggested that common ownership would inevitably lead to the destruction of the environment. He argued that commons, for example, fields, fisheries or forests, should be privatised or controlled by the state, rather than continuing as collectively community owned property. Elinor Ostrom while taking Hardin’s thesis seriously argued that commons were not always tragic, she found many examples of commons that had been sustained sometimes over centuries. Her body of work dealt with researching how commons could be maintained and focussed on locally agreed sets of conservation rules which created ecologically sustainable institutions for resource management. Her work built strongly on that of her husband Vincent Ostrom. Intriguingly they took a methodologically individualist approach to social phenomena but worked in a collective manner. The fact that she dealt with a serious of problems that concerned many on the left but drew most obviously on thinkers normally conceived as on the right, most significantly, James Buchanan, even at this level of brief description brings a pleasing challenge to all who would describe her work with certainty and simplicity.
Ideology is a difficult term. First like many terms in political science it can be used in a pejorative sense like ‘imperialism’, ‘fascism’ or perhaps ‘statist’. Equally where it has been used to analyse rather than insult, its complexity makes it difficult to pin down. I believe the Marxist literary theorist Terry Eagleton wrote that is was the second most diversely defined term in the English language the first being ‘nature’. Positively and simply it might denote a political or philosophical discourse based on a set of linked concepts. Socialism, green politics (sometimes termed ecologism), liberalism, conservatism and fascism are all in this sense ideologies. I am using it here to include this notion of a relatively stable set of ideas that provide a political and, inevitably, a philosophical worldview. I am also using it in the sense of a group identity, like Proust’s character we seek to read what we already know and to take comfort from such reading!
So those of us, on the left, who are enthused with the commons and angry about its enclosure (which incidentally continues in the 21st century), have an obvious ideological excitement about Elinor Ostrom’s work. Yet read most accounts of her and they are full of free market Austrian economists such as Frank Knight, James Buchanan and Hayek. She certainly can be understood with reference to ‘classic liberalism’. But, in turn, she subverts so much of what is seen as liberalism including the notion of undiluted self-interest and the primacy of private property.
OSTROM AND DEWEY.
Paul Dragos Aligica, who was a student of the Ostroms, has written extensively on their legacy. While he stresses the liberal aspect of their work, they rejected state solutions where community action was possible, which he sees as an approach where Hobbesian pessimism (which would call for a strong state) is met with a (Adam) Smithean, and thus classically liberal alternative, Dragos Aligica notes the strong connect between both Ostroms approach and that of the US philosopher John Dewey. While Aligica does not claim Elinor would have claimed to have been a follower of Dewey, many aspects of his philosophy such as a focus on language, democracy and practical implications of conceptual work, are shared with her. Aligica and Boettke have previously noted the sophisticated linguistic element of the Ostroms’ work, which they relate to the pragmatists Searle and Pierce. Thus while sympathetic to direct democracy and popular participation, values of diversity and ecological respect, neither Ostrom sought to set up a system based on fixed and unchanging concepts.
Elinor Ostrom was a pragmatist in a specific sense that she sought to answer a problem or puzzle, rather than dealing with broad prescriptions. Her approach contrasts strong in this regard with Garrett Hardin. Ideological approaches to the commons, either condemning or celebrating collective ownership, can be contrasted with a pragmatic view that poses commons as a collective action problem. This was very much her approach, some resources can not easily be owned privately, they are almost inevitably commons, commons can lead to degradation, so how can we work out ways of making the commons sustainable.
THE LIMITS OF PRAGMATISM
So often we find that self-declared pragmatism is contrasted with the (foolish and dogmatic) ideology of others. Ideology being used in this way as a pejorative term which is challenged with ‘common sense’. ‘I am practical, you in contrast are enslaved by dogma.’ This is not a move that Elinor Ostrom made but nonetheless it may be impossible to entirely separate pragmatism from ideology in her work or indeed in that of any thinker. An emphasis on practical problem solving provides a contrast, broadly, with an ideological approach based on a pre-existing framework which is defended. However, the kinds of problems which are thought worthy of solving are conditioned perhaps by ideological considerations.
Elinor Ostrom should not be seen, in my opinion, as providing a flag to follow, a symbol to pursue in support of an ideology but instead provides a set of concepts for dealing with socio-ecological problems.
Ideology might be viewed as closed, in contrast, her work and that of Vincent was always open to further reformulation.
Dragos Aligica, P. (2014) Institutional Diversity and Political Economy: The Ostroms and Beyond. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Ostrom, E. (1990) Governing the Commons. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Dr Derek Wall is an associate lecturer in Political Economy at Goldsmiths College. His books include The Sustainable Economics of Elinor Ostrom (2014) and Elinor Ostrom's Rules for Radicals (2017)
at May 13, 2018
13 Mar 2018
At the same time as we write and read this, they have cut off the electricity and water in Afrin, Rojava, the area and territory of the Kurdistan Women's Revolution and Democratic Confederalism. At this same time the Sultan Fascist Erdogan intends to complete the genocide in Afrin. He started bombing on January 20, facing the heroic resistance of women and men in defence of collective freedom; of the dignified life.
Today they advance on the capital city of the canton (Afrin) where they have taken refuge civilians who have had to flee the bombs, after mass murders. Erdogan says he will return these lands to their owners, when they have always been inhabited by Kurdish majorities. He is a murderous fascist and is committing a genocidal massacre before the eyes of the world, before our eyes right now.
Here is a text sent to us from Afrin containing the firm, energetic, hurt and anguished words of Bruno Lima Rocha.
Here is a text sent to us from Afrin containing the firm, energetic, hurt and anguished words of Bruno Lima Rocha.
While the army of men and women fights and faces a disproportionately superior enemy, the powers of the world, watch in silence. Intentional and cowardly accomplices intend that this uprising for the life of and from the women ends in a bloodbath so that a minority can continue to accumulate and so that the many of us will continue to be subjected and submitted to our resignation, occupation and submission. Right now, the terrifying sound of bombs and shots is advancing on a city that has proclaimed dignity, freedom, life and justice in democracy, matriarchal and woven to the earth.
Here a text sent to us from Afrin and the firm, energetic, hurt, anguished word of Bruno Lima Rocha. Turkey is a murderous state. Erdogan, a fascist sultan. The world, complicit and silent as death advances on Afrin and the women and men of the Kurdish revolution defend us all and are the only protection, in this infamous world, for those girls, children ... for that people who have shouted and built freedom.
No to domination and dispossession. Pueblo in Camino
Hugo Blanco is the historic leader of the indigenous people of Peru. He publishes Lucha Indigena (where this statement was originally published) This is my rough translation using google!
Original in Spanish
Original in Spanish
4 Mar 2018
We need to move beyond 'my party is good' and 'your party is evil'. Instead we need to think about systems. The proposal that Caroline Lucas is good and Jeremy Corbyn less so or vice versa, seems unproductive. The notion that we have an elite with noxious intentions cannot entirely be dismissed when one thinks of how many innocent people are imprisoned in Britain. However it is a far from adequate way of understanding what is going on. A simple moralism is always going to be too simplistic.
OK having stood as a General Election candidate for the Green Party against Theresa May, she kind of does represent evil for me. It was instructive to complete a hustings with her (she dodged televised debates but under took a local hustings in Maidenhead). Her support for arms sales to Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and her disdain for the Kurds in Syria who fight against ISIS, appalled me. I could go on, one thinks of those who have died from benefit sanctions in the UK.
However we need to think not only of replacing 'bad' politicians with 'good' politicians or even of policies to make things better. A society is a system and different elements tend to reinforce each other and to conserve the system. A particular change of policy or leaders does not alone lead to systematic change. Again the assumption that we are betrayed by leaders who are corrupted by power is inadequate, a society moves to a particular rhythm and changing this is very difficult indeed.
The assumption that politics is about understanding and changing systems provides a clear break with the usual way of doing things. Quite radical policies tend to be mobilised to support an existing system. Systematic change is extremely difficult to achieve, our society is a capitalist society, economics, ideas, politics, etc, etc. broadly reinforce the pursuit of profit.
There are no easy solutions to this, I certainly don't see capitalism as ecologically sustainable. Introducing a land tax, nationalising major firms or introducing a basic income may or may not be desirable in themselves but each alone whether desirable or not, is not going to change the dynamic.
I tend to be critical of nationalisation and central planning for a variety of reasons. Nonetheless what ever their virtues we can see how the nationalisation of the 1945 Atlee government, and its introduction of the NHS and welfare state, while bringing benefits did not transform the British system.
I am not proposing a reductionist view, economics may have a lot of weight but culture and a series of other factors are part of any system. Neither I am a holist in the sense that the system can never be changed, however systems do tend to conserve themselves to a large extent.
Thus with the evolution of the world wide web and social media, we have seen fewer examples of wikipedia and more examples of platform capitalism of various types. More profit from the sharing economy and less actual sharing, more concentration of power and wealth and less community gain, perhaps.
How we work with the systematic nature of a society to change the system seem to be a better way of framing the question of political action than simply condemning the ruling party as fools and knaves (although having debated with May I know there is something in this thesis!).
Massimo de Angelis's recent book on commons does tackle the issue of systems, the promotion of commons does not transform the economic system, even though commons have many positive features.
The notion of 'overdetermination' seems vital in understanding how causes inter act. Ecology as a science studies relationships within systems, natural systems are different to social systems, but the systematic approach of ecology is likely to be instructive. Cybernetics also relates to this.
I was also remind of the importance of a systems approach in my thinking in discussion with Graham Jones, I will be interested to see if his new book for Polity takes up this challenge.
His suggestions for an ecology of political action do look interesting!
Numerous commentators have called for a turn towards an ecology of organisations – Plan C’s theory of the Social Strike, and Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek’s counter hegemonic project in Inventing the Future both rely on this concept. However, an outline of the features of such an ecology, or how it might be built, has yet to be specified. We can combine ideas from social movement studies literature, with those found in the study of ecological resilience and complex adaptive systems, for lessons in how to create a growing, dominant and resilient network of resistance and alternatives. We have to be careful of course, because for all the similarities of dynamics found between social systems and ecologies, they are not one and the same. Social systems are fundamentally maintained through communication of symbols and the capacity for conscious reflection, unlike material ecological systems. But with that proviso in mind, we can nonetheless bring together a series of conceptual tools for some guidance on building counterpower in a network society.
This is from his shock doctrine of the left article which can be found here.
Politics is about change and change needs to be based on deep thinking about how systems work and specific action to promote transformation. The necessary change is multi faced.
29 Jan 2018
(Photo from Newroz, a year or two ago!)
Statement from Jeremy Corbyn on Afrin
On Saturday's #DefendAfrin demonstration in London, Dan Carden MP read this statement from Jeremy Corbyn:
"I send my solidarity to the Kurdish people of Syria and all over the world. What is urgently needed is a ceasefire, de-escalation and a negotiated political solution - not further escalations and interventions in a conflict that has already led to huge numbers of deaths and refugees. Multiple interventions by outside powers have increased the suffering and destruction and intensified tensions in the region. Turkey's air and ground assault in the Afrin region is already causing civilian casualties including among refugees from other parts of Syria. The British government has failed to consistently oppose foreign interventions in Syria and is itself involved in the US-led bombing campaign. We have instead a moral obligation to throw our weight behind pressure for a lasting peace and political settlement in Syria, including the withdrawal of all foreign forces engaged in the conflict."
Jeremy has a very strong record of solidarity with Kurdish people and is a patron of Peace in Kurdistan.
Some British volunteers called for a vote for Jeremy Corbyn during the 2017 General Election more details here
Jeremy has been subject to strong press attacks because of his support for Kurdish liberation, click here.
John Woodcock, an anti Corbyn Labour Party MP, has, in contrast, shown sympathy with Turkish armed forces, see here and been strongly criticised.
I would like the Labour Party to be making strong and regular statements opposing Turkish attacks on Afrin, as has Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley, the Green Party co-leaders, here
Boris Johnson and Theresa May have, in contrast to Jeremy Corbyn and the Green Party, shown their sympathy for Turkish 'security', http://factcheckingturkey.com/syria/claim-us-and-uk-strongly-criticize-afrin-operation-433
25 Jan 2018
TO OUR PEOPLES AND THE PUBLIC OPINION
The AKP-MHP fascist rule, in collaboration with the anti-human gangs has launched an occupation attack against Afrin. They want to totally strip Afrin, an oasis of democracy for Syria and the Middle East, of the Kurdish population and replace them with these gangs. The AKP-MHP fascist rule has once again demonstrated its enmity towards the Kurds. Through this occupation attack, they want to shore up and nurture the reactionary forces in the Middle East. Knowing that a ground operation is doomed to fail, they began the occupation by using the Syrian air space, opened to them only after a dirty deals. They have attacked the city using approximately 100 fighter jets, an unprecedented case in the history of warfare. This occupation has faced the historical resistance of the people of Afrin and its self-sacrificing freedom fighters. The Afrin occupation attack has not only revealed the true anti-human nature of the Turkish state in the person of AKP-MHP fascist rule, but also has, at the same time, proved how a people empowered by democratic community principles can strongly resist. The people of Afrin and their self-sacrificing girls and boys, inspired by freedom and democracy ideals, have given the “no parasan” response to the occupation forces. They have rebuffed all the attacks during the last 6 days. We salute the people of Afrin and their self-sacrificing fighters who defend their homeland and democratic values. We congratulate them in advance for the victory they will gain in the most rightful battle of history.
The Afrin resistance is the resistance of all Syrians, the peoples of the Middle East, and all humanity. There is no difference between ISIS and AKP-MHP fascism and its collaborating gangs attacking Afrin. ISIS’s attack on Kobani and AKP-MHP’s attack on Afrin share the same goal. Recognizing this fact, all the peoples of the world and democratic circles have united around the historic resistance of Afrin. The attitudes of different states regarding this occupation may be driven by interests and have thus heartened it; However, regardless of these attitudes, the peoples all over the world have supported the Afrin resistance. We salute the democratic humanity and all the peoples for their support. Humanity’s conscience and sense of freedom and democracy united around the Afrin resistance have once again showed that humanity will not let fascism triumph. Afrin is a manifestation of the accumulation of humanity’s sense of freedom and democracy. Leftists, socialists, environmentalists, feminists, pro-labor circles and peace activists should organize their stance more effectively so that the sense of solidarity and the power of struggle needed for victory will emerge. Once AKP-MHP fascism is defeated, the wave of freedom and democracy, starting from the Middle East, will spread all over the world.
The Afrin resistance provides the peoples of Turkey with a historical opportunity for achieving peace and democracy. Once this anti-democratic and anti-freedom fascist rule, joined by CHP, is defeated, the hurdles in the way of freedom and democracy will be removed and the peoples of Turkey will achieve fraternity, democracy, and freedom. We salute all the democratic forces who have opposed the AKP-MHP fascist attacks and resisted the anti-democratic and anti-freedom attitudes of CHP. We believe that Turkey will be found on the basis of your honorable and courageous stance. We reiterate our commitment for staying in solidarity with your hard struggle.
The Afrin occupation has once again had the Kurds see the anti-Kurdish nature of the Turkish state, as the vanguard of enmity against the Kurds. It has been revealed that unless this fascism is defeated, no part of Kurdistan will achieve freedom and democracy. Afrin resistance instantiates the unity, common stance and struggle of the Kurds in all parts of Kurdistan and the diaspora. We congratulate our people in Kurdistan and in Europe for their stance. We would like to reiterate our commitment to a Free Kurdistan and democratic Middle East, goals to be achieved through the unity of the Kurds, their unity with other peoples, and their common struggle. We call on the Kurdish people and all the peoples of the Middle East and all over the world to unite and stand in solidarity with the Afrin resistance.
The Afrin resistance will prevail, AKP-MHP fascism will be defeated, all Syrians and the peoples of the Middle Ease will achieve their freedom and democratic rights.
Co-Presidency of KCK Executive Council
16 Jan 2018
BBC report on imminent invasion http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-42706492
14 Jan 2018
A meeting of the Fabian Society addressed by London Mayor Sadiq Khan was heckled by a dozen or so member of the White Pendragons, a right wing group. They shouted pro Brexit slogans, brandished US flags and advocated for Donald Trump. So far so straightforward, a previous unknown group, they are part of the largely white, male, British far right, a movement made up of individuals moving between UKIP, the BNP, the English Democrats and EDL. In other parts of Europe similar individuals are in government, one thinks of Poland or Austria.
It is distressing to see mock gallows erected with a rather frank threat aimed at London's first Muslim mayor. In the 1930s they would have marched against Jews and I guess in a future decade Hindus or Jains might be the source of their alarm, equally if we go back to the 18th century and the Gordon Riots, Catholics would have been the sectarian target.
So far so bad but so predictable. The white pendragon incidentally is said to be a reference to the flags of Hengist and Horsa who led the Saxons, Angles and Jutes who invaded Britain in the 5th Century AD. In fact Hengist and Horsa landed in Herne Bay, from where the White Pendragon's spokesperson Davy Russell harks. Davy, a former member of the English Defence League (EDL) has been described as 'the Herne Bay shock jockey'.
Islamophobia is a sadly mainstream hatred but the Fabian Society is vilified for more obscure reasons. This centre left organisation has been seen as a mainstay of moderate or right wing or establishment Labour for decades. Where those on the Corbyn wing of Labour may vilify Progress, the Fabians are seen as part of the party furniture and largely uncontroversial. Indeed founded in 1884, the Fabian Society predates the formation of the Labour Party by decades.
In the 1950s and 1960s far from being a shadowy left wing group they acted for the Atlanticist right of Labour, advocating a pro US cold war foreign policy. Pro nuclear figures like Gaitskell and Dennis Healy were notably Fabians and opposed by the left of Labour in often fierce polemical battles.
For the White Pendragons the Fabians are a virtually satanic group who aim to control society. Part of a network of one world or new world order groups, whose ultimate aim is the destruction of British society.
While advancing socialism the Fabians are part of a conspiracy staffed by an international banking elite.
The conspiracy thread in far right politics especially anti-semitic forms is disturbing and confusing. The White Pendragon's objections to the Fabians, which seem to be a central part of their political world view, is incomprehensible to observers. It is a standard on the British far right.
The first leader of the National Front, A.K.Chesterton, wrote an account of conspiracy entitled 'The New Unhappy Lords'. The Bilderburgs, Rothschilds, Rockerfellers and, indeed, the Fabians, are part of a conspiracy to advance Soviet interests and destroy the British Empire.
The far right John Birch Society advanced related conspiracy theories in the USA during the 1950s and onwards.
The international far right have variously linked freemasons, socialist networks including the Fabians, bankers and Bilderburgs and the UN into a paranoid and mutating story of manipulation.
Typically a survey of the Australian far right in the 1970s noted:
In recent years Mr Butler has mellowed a little, and appears to have sought a more responsible image. But his League of Rights has continued to disseminate claims of a Communist conspiracy. One claim is that the Fabian Society and the London School of Economics are centres of operation for the International Jewish-Communist conspiracy. Mr Butler today claims that he no longer a with everything he has published—”Some of my best friends are Jews”, he has said. But his record speaks for itself. He has distributed anti-semitic and pro-fascist literature written by Sir Oswald Mosley, the British Fascist, and Lincoln Rockwell of the American Nazi Party
Often the conspiracies become mysterious and complex:
The American conspiracy theorist has always known that there were people out to destroy the paradise that was mythical America, land of the brave, home of the free. But they kept changing their minds about the identity of the evil conspirators. Was it the Catholics? The Masons? The Jews? The bankers? The East coast elite of 'old money'? Fabians? After 1917 they knew it was International Communism but they weren't sure if there was someone else behind the Red Menace. Some suspected that Communism was merely a front for international Jewry (weren't Marx and Engels Jews?). Sometimes all the suspects were amalgamated into one vast, muddled, fudge as in this early 1950s formulation in which the threat was a 'Fabian, Rhodes Scholar, Zionist, Pinko, Communist, New Deal, Fair Deal, Socialist-minded gang'.2http://www.variant.org.uk/10texts/Ramsay.html
Stray facts are built into a comprehensive narrative. Hitler was another exponent and the far right wing conspiracy narrative can be traced back to Abbe Augustin Barruel's Mémoires pour servir à l'Histoire du Jacobinisme. Barruel's views were described by Nesta Webster, whose books were read by an array of far rightists including the John Birch Society.
Such conspiracies cannot, of course, be convincingly refuted. To challenge them shows that one is part of the conspiracy.
The thinking is that any revolution or unrest is a product not of injustice but of the plans of a manipulative external group.
By demonising a particular group violence is legitimated. Thus the gallows is symbolically put forward by the White Pendragon as the solution to treachery. The alien all powerful enemy is the big 'other' targeted by the conspiracy thinker.
The anti-conspiracy organisation see themselves as the knights of good fighting against superhuman evil forces. Fear is linked to moral certainty, despite the seeming incoherence and opaqueness of their views.
Sadiq Khan's religion was not the main target for the White Pendragons, instead they were challenging the Fabian Society who they view as a bastion of evil rather than a rather mild political group committed to discussion and compromise!
I will blog something critical about the Fabians another day, I am largely ignorant of the 'freemen' on the land aspect of the White Pendragons but will discuss if I have time to find out.
Elinor Ostrom’s pragmatism:4:30pm, May 29th, 2018 Bush House North East Wing, Kings College, University of London
‘He was, indeed, in the habit of always comparing what he heard or read with an already familiar canon, and felt his admiration q...
My friend Mehmet Aksoy was killed by Isis in Raqqa, Syria on 26th September this year. He had been working as a journalist and comm...
(Photo from Newroz, a year or two ago!) Statement from Jeremy Corbyn on Afrin On Saturday's # DefendAfrin demonstration ...
My next book will be out in the autumn, its a guide to Elinor Ostrom, first woman to win the Nobel for Economics, published by P...