Collective Action and the Rules of Surfing
50 Pages Posted: 30 May 2012
Date Written: August 15, 2010
This article examines the interaction between formal laws and informal social norms in generating de facto institutions for collective common pool resource governance. Utilizing ethnographic fieldwork and a game theory model, this study illustrates how the informal rules of surfing — which emerged in response to a resource scarcity engendered in part by formal state law — inadvertently facilitate collective action for environmental conservation by increasing the individual benefits for local surfers to organize against environmental threats. Lessons learned regarding effective institutions for governing common pool resources are relevant to sustaining ecosystem services necessary for human well-being such as clean air and healthy fish and wildlife populations. How and why some groups of surfers have managed to cooperate to protect surf breaks — a de jure open access common pool resource — is salient to the larger theoretical question of how any social group can overcome the collective action problem and self-organize to provide a non-excludable public good.
Keywords: collective action, tragedy of the commons, public goods, natural resources, informal social norms, de jure, de facto, common pool resources, shadow of the law, Ostrom, Olson, Hardin, environmental protection, surfing
JEL Classification: A14, C71, C72, D23, D71, H41, K10, K19, K32, Q20, Q25, Q26, Q57
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