Friday, February 5, 2016

The Tragedy of the Commons at 50: Context, Precedents, and Afterlife

A call for papers for a conference and journal issue I'm organizing, with the help of my distinguished teacher, Carol Rose. Please pass it on!

Conference and Special Issue:
The Tragedy of the Commons at 50: Context, Precedents, and Afterlife

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the publication of
Garrett Hardin's "Tragedy of the Commons"

Cegla Center for Interdisciplinary Research of the Law
with the support of
David Berg Foundation Institute for Law and History
GlobalTrust: Sovereigns as Trustees of Humanity
S. Horowitz Institute for Intellectual Property

Buchmann Faculty of Law
Tel Aviv University
June 28-30, 2017

Call for Papers – due 1 March 2016

            Few modern publications—or indeed ideas—have been as influential for the development of law, political science, economics, or environmental studies as Garrett Hardin's "Tragedy of the Commons", his blockbuster 1968 article in Science magazine. The notion of ownerless resources being inexorably and inevitably subject to overuse and degradation, illustrated through a parable of a common pasture consciously grazed to oblivion by herdsmen, proved to be a gripping one. It has seemed to explain or justify problems and solutions from areas such as population control, ownership of and sovereignty over natural resources, pollution, and cultural and technological innovation, and it has remained a dominant trope in many fields in and outside law since its publication. Of course Hardin's idea has not gone unchallenged, and recent decades have seen a wealth of scholarship dedicated to refuting or modifying the "Tragedy" thesis and identifying or advocating countervailing and related effects.

            Like all ideas, the idea of the "Tragedy" has a history and a context, the exploration of which is the object of this conference. Precedents in economic writing of the 1950s have been pointed out, and Hardin's article itself acknowledged his debt to a nineteenth-century "mathematical amateur". The aim of this conference and special issue is to go beyond these immediate and explicit intellectual sources and explore three themes in the history of the idea of the tragedy of the commons (the functioning of actual commons in history remains outside this conference's scope):

  1. The idea of the commons in history: The idea of "the commons", whether communally owned or accessible to all, is one that lawyers, economists, political theorists, and others have written about for centuries. Some, like Hardin, were alarmed by it; other valorized it; yet others saw it in a more complex light. We aim to excavate new layers of the intellectual antecedents of Hardin and his opponents, within the Western tradition as well as outside it, and understand the historical contexts in which these earlier ideas and texts were produced.
  2. Hardin's world: Not only did Hardin not write in an intellectual vacuum; "Tragedy" was written in a specific time and place, and in a certain political, ideological, cultural, and social environment. We seek to illuminate the contexts that might explain the particular circumstances in which "The Tragedy of the Commons" was written, published, and popularized.
  3. The Tragedy's career: Half a century after the publication of Hardin's article, its reception, revision, and rejection already have histories. We wish to understand better the enthusiasm with which the idea of the Tragedy has been embraced, as well as the intellectual, ideological, and political sources and attractions of alternative approaches, most prominently that of Elinor Ostrom's school of commons studies. 
One-page proposals addressing any aspect of the above themes are welcome. Accepted articles will be published, after peer review, in a special issue of Theoretical Inquiries in Law, the TAU Cegla Center's prestigious journal.

Accommodations in Tel Aviv will be provided by TAU, and participants will have their reasonable travel expenses reimbursed.

  • One-page abstracts accompanied by a brief c.v. should be sent to by 1 March 2016.
  • Notices of acceptance will be sent by 1 April 2016.
  • In order to allow pre-circulation and preparation of comments, draft articles will be due by the end of May 2017.
  • The conference will take place in Tel Aviv June 28-30, 2017.
  • Final drafts will be due by the end of August 2017.
  • After peer review and editing, the special issue of Theoretical Inquiries in Law will be published in July 2018.
Nahalal collective village, Israel (c. 1930?)

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