Management of open resources or
common resources has been an issue of debate for the past decades to present
day. ‘Commons’ are any resource that can be used or that is owned by the
community as a whole. These are resources difficult to enclose. In other words,
the ‘commons’ are the land or resources belonging to or affecting the whole of
a community for instance, nature in all its forms fisheries, oil fields,
climate systems is seen as commons (Robbins,P., Hintz, J., Moore, S. A., 2014, p. 54). “Tragedy of the
commons” is a concept by Garrett Hardin in the 1960s which parabolically
explains the idea of the ‘commons’ through a pasture.  The parable was about farmers using a pasture
which was open to all. As rational beings, each farmer will seek to increase
their own utility by increasing his herd, and by pursuing their own
self-satisfaction, it is expected that each farmer will try to keep as many
animals as possible on the pasture (Hardin, 1968). Eventually overgrazing or
over exploitation of a resource. This is the tragedy. In a world with finite
resources, freedom in a ‘commons’ brings ruin to all, and it can take just one
selfish person to break the equilibrium (Hardin, 1968).

In present day, the article by
Hardin is used to understand the relations between society and the environment.
It is in the vain of two critical aspects that Hardin puts forward which helps
to understand political ecology around resource conflict issues. These two
critical elements are the management of open resources through the state or
privatization of these resources. These conflicts can be around such issues of
sustainable use of natural resources which are difficult to enclose. Hardin
believes in what he said to be mutual coercion mutually agreed upon (Robbins,P., Hintz, J., Moore, S. A., 2014), which is a form of
a social arrangement or a type of an enforcement mechanism that’s creates
responsibility of some sort through coercion in order to gain control over the
overexploitation of resources.

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State management and privatization
of natural resources are theoretical approaches that Hardin believed that they
can facilitate gain of control over the use of resources as he asserted that conscience
and goodwill were useless, there was some need of a form of coercion to gain
control. However, Harding believed in privatization more than state management
as he said they may also fail, viewing privatization as the best solution
available. To avoid the tragedy of the commons, ‘commons’ must be made
non-common through the power of law and property  (Robbins,P., Hintz, J., Moore, S.
A., 2014).
The underlying assumption behind these two proposed solutions is central to
incentives received by the care takers of the environment though internalizing
externalities so that cost of poor decision making around resource use is felt
internally by the state or private owners to eliminate free riders.

However, at the time when
Hardin’s concept was gaining popularity, a parallel open resource management system
emerged from Ostrom. This was management of open access of natural resources by
collective action (Robbins,P., Hintz, J., Moore, S. A., 2014). The underlying
discovery that was made by Ostrom was that instead of property rights or the
state managing resources there was a form of institutions that controlled
resource user’s behavior to be sustainable when using the resource.
Institutions are defined rules and norms governing collective action and these
can be formal or informal for instance how a human behave in a society maybe
constrained by cultural norms and beliefs. Hence, her argument was that some resources
around the world could be managed by applying logic instead of tyrannical repressing


Ostrom preferred institutions in
managing common resources as she argued that privatization would allow
intensive use of resources as property owner would seek to maximize their
profits or gains. Though this would lead to economic growth it would lead to the
unhygienic socio-ecological spheres of life and this can be best be exemplified
though primitive accumulation. Which is the seizure of natural resources by the
capitalist, a natural resource which was a common resource (Robbins,P., Hintz, J., Moore, S. A., 2014). This has a negative
impact to the society and to the environment at it created huge inequality gaps
and overexploitation of resources which was a time bomb. Thus, for Ostrom believed
in the management of common resources through local or communal institutions.