Politics of the Commons: “I don’t need it, but you can’t have it”

I am working on some edits for a paper I have written on the need for pastoralist-appropriate policies wherein I examine India’s dairy policy and consider some of the implications on pastoralist communities from data gathered through interviews I did this summer.

I was just reading a paper by Arun Agrawal called “I don’t need it, but you can’t have it: Politics on the Commons”  which is contained in a collection of papers from Gujarat and Rajasthan. I was really intrigued by the analysis and thought I would post it here so that

  1.  I will remember it; and,
  2.  others can chime in as there are some clear links to current debates on land grab, etc. 

In the paper, Agrawal accepts the main arguments advanced by scholars of common property but goes on to point out an oversight that permeates  much of their work:

Except for some notable exceptions, these theorists ignore local politics. The community institutions they describe seem to be harmonious ideals, untouched by such human frailties as are embodied in hierarchical structures, political machinations, and jealous behaviour. In ignoring the politics inherent in the formation and functioning of all institutions that allocate resources, and in championing the cause of community institutions, common property theorists have fallen prey to the same mistake committed by early neo-institutional writers… These early writers argued that more efficient (read private) property rights will come about as the value of a resource increases. They thus ignored the role of politics in creating institutions as well as in deterring the creation of new institutions. Many theorists of the commons similarly valorise the “little community” to the point wherein seems that life in these communities is untouched by political manoeuvres; that local populations know best; and that there would be no victims if only the state stopped intervening into local contexts. Such a view simplifies the complexity of interactions among different groups at the local level. By implication it pots the state against the local community, investing the state with a monolithic rationality, intentionality and structure. Worse, it sees the actions of local resource users as occurring primarily in reaction to external influences.

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