World Commons Week


English short Version

Sustainable Commons Adaptations to Landscape Ecosystems in Switzerland (SCALES). Institutional Change, Constitutional Innovations and Public Policies in Swiss Resource Management

The interdisciplinary research project SCALES funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) researches continuity and change in the management of common-pool resources such as pastures and forests in Switzerland. The major focus is on differences and similarities of local institutions (rules and regulations) and forms of organisations (civic communities, corporations, unions) which have been managing common property of these common-pool resources for a long time and which have shaped the cultural landscapes of Switzerland. The project goes back to the 18th century and examines changes from that time to the present day. It refers to the research of the US-Social Anthropologist Robert Netting on the management of common property in the Swiss alpine area of canton Wallis, especially the village of Törbel. This example was one of the empirical case studies, which Nobel Price Winner Elinor Ostrom made use of in order to prove that humans are capable of managing common-pool resources in a sustainable way by crafting robust common property institutions (Ostrom 1990). However, external political, economic and institutional changes in the last 300 years, especially in the second half of the 20th century, created important structural transformations in agriculture and forestry as products from these sectors have lost value in the industrial and post-industrial world. How have the organisations managing the commons reacted to these changes? How have local institutions adapted to changing conditions? These broad research questions are not solely of interest to Swiss but to international scholars as well. They will be researched and discussed in an interdisciplinary group of post-doctoral students from social anthropology, human geography, history, and political science and be supplemented by master students from agricultural economics and economic anthropology. Focussing on five alpine regions in the German, French and Italian speaking areas of Switzerland, the team will gather data regarding robustness, change and innovations of commons institutions. A major interest lies in the local emic perception of common property, the perception of structural changes, and how institutions need to be changed and transformed. In addition, research will be carried out on how changes in local commons management are embedded in the public policies of the respective cantons, and the state.