Institutional Interplay: The Environmental Consequences of Cross-Scale Interactions

Summary of: Institutional Interplay: The Environmental Consequences of Cross-Scale Interactions

Author(s) / Editor(s)

Cross-scale (vertical) interactions among resource regimes must be planned in such a way that maximizes the benefits of interaction by higher levels of social organization (comprehensive planning with respect to ecosystems management and equity) and minimizes the disadvantages (bias towards economically and politically powerful parties).

Publication Reference

Published in/by
The Drama of the Commons, National Academy Press


  • Similar to Ostrom's findings in Governing the Commons, local arrangements are shown to have certain advantages over higher levels of social organization. In addition to having less incentive for large-scale exploitation, local institutions have built-in mechanisms for responding to change in local conditions and are well understood by the user community. "They normally feature informal agreements that evolve on the basis of trial and error and that undergo de facto adjustments over time as a way of adapting to changing conditions in the relevant biogeographical systems or changing circumstances of the societies within which they operate."
  • There is less collective experience with the concept of public property when it comes to management of marine resources, as compared to that of land resources. This is partly because marine resources, if not sedentary like oysters or clams, pose a large excludability problem. States that acquired control over marine resources through EEZs have had variable success in sustainable management, depending on the varying coordination of cross-scale regimes.

As the density of institutions increases in all levels of social space (the local, national and international arena), so does the number and importance of interactions between individual institutions, both horizontally (at the same level of social organization) and vertically (between different levels of social organization). In many cases, sustainability of patterns of land and sea use is determined by the interplay between modern and often formal national structures and often informal local systems. The creation of exclusive economic zones (EEZs) beginning in the 1970s helped to increase the role of national regulations in use of marine resources. In the case of land tenure, a trend throughout the modern era toward national control has only recently been reversed, through claims of ownership by indigenous groups. While local systems of control do not always act in the interests of sustainability of the resource, they are motivated differently than multinational corporations that can easily move operations without worrying about long-term costs; "as long as their informal socioeconomic systems remain intact, local peoples do not have the strong incentives to harvest timber for export, to extract hydrocarbons or nonfuel minerals to sell on world markets."