CSPS Research Seminar: Towards a New Institutional Political Ecology (NIPE)

Tuesday 5 November, 12:30-13:30

Leeuwenborch C0083

Towards a New Institutional Political Ecology (NIPE)

Tobias Haller

Most commons studies include an institutional analysis that is often related to the work of Elinor Ostrom’s newer but also to so-called older institutional approaches. It is argued by Olivier de Sardan that the new and the old approaches differ considerably: The former is related more to the issue of economic efficiency focussing on the gain in reducing transaction costs, which institutions provide via coordination enabling to solve collective action dilemmas. The latter frames actors as rather being embedded in their socio-economic and political environment and uses a broader political economy framework, addressing issues of power relations between actors. As commons studies refer to issues of sustainable use of common pool resources, this book project proposes to have a closer look on how to bridge gaps between a more economic oriented and a more political oriented model in environmental studies. Therefore, this paper suggests to use a social anthropological version of New Institutionalism developed by Ensminger, which includes discussions on bargaining power of actors but as well on ideology (discourses and narratives) as a basis for the production of legitimacy by rational actors in the selection of rules (institution shopping) in a context of institutional pluralism. However, the driver for change in this approach stems from external, economic and value related processes. This approach gives a clear outline of structurally interrelated aspects, showing which elements trigger institutional changes in the management of the commons. However, there is a lack of conceptualisation of power in all these processes and this is done in Political Ecology. Therefore, the book projet proposes to marry these two approaches, which start from completely different views on actors` strategies and behaviours but which will give a more precise analysis for the study of the commons and institutional change if combined rather than used separately. The result, the New Institutional Political Ecology (NIPE), will be outlined by discussing different takes on the issue of power in Political Ecology and by outlining the New Institutionalism approach in Social Anthropology with its structural interrelated variables for explaining the commons governance in a changing ‘glocal’ world. For the presentation and orientation for the book project I discuss this combination by using an empirical case study of a proposed irrigation project in a commonly owned pasture in Zambia.

Tobias Haller is professor at the Institute of Social Anthropology at the University of Bern, Switzerland. He studied social anthropology, geography and sociology at the University of Zurich, Switzerland and also graduated there. He did research on institutional change in agriculture and common pool resources management in Cameroon and Zambia, led several comparative research projects on the management of the commons in Floodplains in Mali, Cameroon, Tanzania, Zambia and Botswana, on land, water and green grabbing with impact on gender relations in Kenya, Sierra Leone, Morocco, Ghana, Tanzania, Malawi, on Food Systems in Kenya and Bolivia, on social and environmental impacts of oil and mining companies worldwide, on the management of the commons in Switzerland and on constitutionality (participatory bottom-up institution building processes).

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