Local Institutions and the Governance of Local Forests

Ginger Adams, Arthur Bruneau, Anthony Gosselin, and Matthew Withington


Paul F. Steinberg and Stacy D. VanDeveer. Comparative Environmental Politics: Theory, Practice, and Prospects. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2012. Print.


Arun Agrawal is a political scientist who is currently working in the School of Natural Resources & Environment  at the University of Michigan. He has a MA as well as a PhD in political science from Duke University. He is well known for having explored the positive side of natural disasters.  Within the framework of his researches, he focuses on the environmental conservation as well as international development in a political perspective. Since 2013, he has emphasized the need to pay a particular attention to the forest commons in order to protect them in a proper way. More recently, he has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

The type of publication is in book form. The part 12 focuses on the importance of having strong institutions to allow a real protection to forests. Agrawal emphasizes on how vital is it to govern commons forest in a proper way. Central to his research is the fact that forests are essential to humanity survival as well as prosperity.

One of the main arguments of the article is that the developing world has more forests under the “common area” governing style. This leads to a more economically friendly country and society, compared to the developed world with a large portion of forests having the government directly controlling it. The common area is defined as a area used by all, with little governing policies regarding how that area is used, who it is used by, and how heavily it is used.  The developing world has community governed forests of around 14.1% while the developed world has 11.4%. This is due to the fact that the developing countries have a higher percentage of poor people. These people rely on these commons in order to survive. They will farm, gather lumber, let their animals graze etc. So, it is talked about how that since the developed country’s population does not depend on the commons, they have no need to set aside large portions of land aside for the people to survive off of.

Agrawal explains the success of forest commons by expanding on three subcategories: the ability for local communities to manage their forests effectively and sustainably, the community level factors that determine the success of effective governance of forest commons and the institutional factors that improve forest commons outcomes (Agrawal 315). At no point in this essay does Agrawal forget to explain his arguments. For instance, while describing the role of communities in the betterment of forest commons, Agarwal explains how poverty, heterogeneity, interests, resources and the environment of communities factor into the success of forest commons (Agrawal 328). Agrawal is also able to tie in the relationships these communities have with institutions and how interactions between the two bodies affects the well being of forest commons (Agrawal 321). By moving through this hierarchy of details, where one characteristic of a community is backed by another, Agrawal covers all bases of why certain communities succeed in creating and maintaining forest commons. Agrawal then covers his bases more by looking into the “knowledge gaps along three dimensions: data, theory and methods” (Agrawal 329). By exposing the knowledge gaps in these three dimensions, Agrawal helps the reader realize the situational dependence of the success of forest commons and how complex these successes are.

The work Agrawal has done on the explanation of forest governance is one of a kind. No other readings have explored the governing of such large public goods. This work can, however, be compared to Jones’ America, Oil, and War in the Middle East. Jones also discusses the political control of a common resource. However, Jones’ piece goes into the internal control. It talks about the play between the developed and developing countries. The difference between these pieces is the government that controls the resource. Additionally, Agrawal breaks down the subcategories of the government. He explains how these systems work, whereas Jones explores the impacts and repercussions of said systems. Both do a great job of looking into natural resources and how they are divided, used, and controlled by governments.

This article brings up questions on how to control natural resources. Should all natural resources be controlled in the same way? Should every community use the same system of governance fro natural resources? What factors should be considered when using and protecting a resource? This piece brings up the point that people in different communities live in different ways, and thus use the same resources in different ways. Should this be taken into consideration?

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