Two Enduring Lessons from Elinor Ostrom

Journal of Institutional Economics, 2013, Forthcoming

Cardozo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 387

21 Pages Posted: 17 Apr 2013 Last revised: 22 May 2013

Date Written: March 10, 2013


This article is a tribute to Elinor Ostrom. It explores two enduring lessons she taught: a substantive lesson that involves embracing complexity and context, and a methodological lesson that involves embracing a framework-driven approach to systematic, evolutionary learning through various interdisciplinary methodologies, theories, and empirical approaches.

First, I discuss Ostrom’s work on environmental commons. I illustrate the two lessons through a discussion of the tragedy of the commons. Next, I explain how the two lessons play a significant role in recent efforts to extend Ostrom’s work on environmental commons to knowledge/cultural commons. I draw a parallel between the tragedy of the commons allegory and the free rider allegory, and show how many of the problems Ostrom explored in the environmental context are manifest in the cultural environmental context. I discuss an ongoing research project that follows the path that Ostrom blazed and systematically studies commons in the cultural environment.

Keywords: Ostrom, commons, externalities, institutional economics, institutions, IAD

Suggested Citation

Frischmann, Brett M., Two Enduring Lessons from Elinor Ostrom (March 10, 2013). Journal of Institutional Economics, 2013, Forthcoming; Cardozo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 387. Available at SSRN:

Brett M. Frischmann (Contact Author)

Villanova University - School of Law ( email )

299 N. Spring Mill Road
Villanova, PA 19085
United States

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