Commentaries

Catherine M. Tucker: Comments on Ostrom

By Peter Turchin April 11, 2012 No Comments

Ostrom’s article presents a cogently argued and lucid approach to investigating the evolution of institutions in complex social-ecological systems.   It combines a commitment  to testable questions, rigorous data collection, attention to existing data and theories, and synthetic integration and analysis of data.   It is sufficiently flexible to allow for novel interpretations and emergence of new theoretical insights, while also building upon our current knowledge within and across disciplines.  The case studies of FMIS and AMIS show the utility of the approach for examining the kinds of processes that contribute to transformation in rules.  The examination provided in the article  offers ideas for how additional, empirical studies of rule change may proceed.

For scholars new to the IAD framework, a learning curve is required, and a shared understanding of terms and concepts is critical for its successful application, especially for comparative studies (for which it is particularly suited).   It is interesting to contrast the openness and adaptability of the approach offered by Ostrom to the paradigmatic argument presented by Wilson and Gowdy – allowing us to ask which approach or what kinds of integration might be most productive in designing future research on the evolution of rules in social-ecological systems.

A few comments related to my own work – I have found the principles of successful collective action for natural resource management (Ostrom 1990, 2005)  and the IAD  framework to be productive and flexible enough to serve well for a wide range of research questions and approaches. It is one of several frameworks that have utility for addressing questions related to collective action, institutional evolution, and challenges to sustainability . The framework has the potential to be productively integrated with other useful frameworks and models, such as the Model of Private Proactive Adaptation to Climate Change (Grothman and Patt 2005), or the Livelihood Vulnerability Framework (e.g., Bacon 2005, Hesselberg and Yaro 2006, Scoones 1998).   My  collaborative work on coffee farmers adaptations to climate change and market volatility in Central America and Mexico is drawing on these frameworks and anticipates further testing and development in coming years.

I am also interested in the ways that the IAD framework  may be used more productively the investigation of evolutionary processes and feedback mechanisms. Thus far it remains a challenge to use it to analyze processes and change.   The integration of the framework with modeling, such as agent-based models, is therefore a productive avenue to pursue, and one that I hope to include in my future work.  

In the mean time, I anticipate that this workshop will be highly productive for considering the evolution of institutions and how we may further our research interests.

Published On: April 11, 2012

Peter Turchin

Peter Turchin

Curriculum Vitae

Peter Turchin is an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Connecticut who works in the field of historical social science that he and his colleagues call Cliodynamics. His research interests lie at the intersection of social and cultural evolution, historical macrosociology, economic history and cliometrics, mathematical modeling of long-term social processes, and the construction and analysis of historical databases. Currently he investigates a set of broad and interrelated questions. How do human societies evolve? In particular, what processes explain the evolution of ultrasociality—our capacity to cooperate in huge anonymous societies of millions? Why do we see such a staggering degree of inequality in economic performance and effectiveness of governance among nations? Turchin uses the theoretical framework of cultural multilevel selection to address these questions. Currently his main research effort is directed at coordinating the Seshat Databank project, which builds a massive historical database of cultural evolution that will enable us to empirically test theoretical predictions coming from various social evolution theories.

Turchin has published 200 articles in peer-reviewed journals, including a dozen in Nature, Science, and PNAS. His publications are frequently cited and in 2004 he was designated as “Highly cited researcher” by ISIHighlyCited.com. Turchin has authored seven books. His most recent book is Ultrasociety: How 10,000 Years of War Made Humans the Greatest Cooperators on Earth (Beresta Books, 2016).

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