Forests as Collective Goods: from conflict to polycentricity

Sara Lorenzini (University of MilaN)
Nadia Von Jacobi (University of Trento)


The polycentricity literature has made important advancements in recognizing value heterogeneity that can concur in the management priorities over a common-pool resource (Aligica and Tarko, 2013; Ostrom, 1997). Within a polycentric system, value heterogeneity reflects in institutional heterogeneity, which allows the coexistence of multiple management priorities. However, this literature is only partially able to explain specific conflict dynamics; conflict is indeed assumed to resolve naturally to the extent that institutions are well designed (Ebbi, 2004; Heikkila, 2019).
Building on Mancur Olson's treatment of collective goods (1965; 1982), we instead propose an interpretation of common-pool resources as collective goods for which multiple, concurring claims are advanced by different collectivities placed in diverse but interacting spatial-temporal contexts and scales (Berkes, 2002; Geores, 2003; Young 2006). We tie diverse claims to Searle's perspective on collective intentionality (2005) and elucidate our thinking on the hand of the example of forests. Specifically, we refer to four exemplary cases in Brazil, Finland, Indonesia and Canada to investigate typical dynamics of conflicts over collective goods and identify key mechanisms that the polycentricity literature may wish to incorporate in order to increase its grasp on conflict origins and transformation.

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