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Power and Conflict in the Contested Commons

A Model and Application to Uluabat Lake, Turkey

Santa Fe Institute | November 2010


By Ceren I. Soylu


Many problems of environmental degradation are adequately captured by standard models of overexploitation of a common pool resource and the failure of those exploiting the resource to avert the "tragedy of the commons." But in some cases, the tragedy is exacerbated by external actors who reduce the commons' capacity for sustainable exploitation. This leads to another collective action problem: How can the resource users cooperate in political actions to provide incentives or constraints inducing the external actors to protect the common pool resource.

The model developed in this paper formalizes this second aspect of collective action problem by way of a tripartite, game theoretical model of conflict. An industry pollutes a lake, reducing income from fishing, and employs fishers offering them an alternative livelihood, thus, deterring political action by fishers that would result in state intervention and stricter regulations on the industry. The industry, thus, has the power to shape the incentive structures of fishers affecting their economic and political activities, while fishers have the power to constrain the choices of the industry through the threat of political action. The model is based on field research on a specific case—that of Uluabat Lake, Turkey—but it provides a general framework to analyze the specific ways power asymmetries interact with the more commonly studied coordination failures resulting in environmental degradation and suggests local empowerment strategies that might counter these effects.

External Link: Power and Conflict in the Contested Commons: A Model and Application to Uluabat Lake, Turkey

Read More: Business, Conservation, Culture, Democracy, Development, Economy, Environment, Ethics, Food, Jobs, Sustainability, Turkey, Asia, Europe

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