Elinor Ostrom

1933 - 2012

Elinor Ostrom

Beijer Fellow Elinor Ostrom, she was the first woman to be awarded the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel. Her award in 2009 was “for her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons” and her ground breaking research on the ways that people organise themselves to manage resources.

Lin, as she was called by her friends, was a true pioneer in interdisciplinary science for sustainability. Although trained as a social scientist, Lin, as her friends called her, was willing to tackle problems with a diversity of qualitative and quantitative methods from disciplines across the sciences. The research question determined which methods would be most appropriate. She combined theory, field studies and laboratory experiments, and demonstrated that people are capable of creating rules-in-use, institutions that allow for sustainable and equitable management of shared natural resources.

Elinor Ostrom,  contributed solutions to many problem areas with new insights on topics ranging from the effectiveness of urban police departments to the management of groundwater basins, irrigation systems, pasture lands, forests and fisheries. Her work on common pool resource management has been deeply influential with the well known 1990 book “Governing the Commons: the Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action” as a prominent example of her numerous publications; the author of hundreds of articles and chapters and more than two dozen books.

After graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles, in Political Science, she did a PhD in the husbandry of Los Angeles groundwater resources.In 1965 she moved to Indiana University, where she remained becoming Professor of Political Science in its College of Arts and Sciences as well as a professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. In 1973 she and her husband Vincent Ostrom founded the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, an interdisciplinary forum for academic collaboration.

In addition to the Economics Prize, Elinor Ostrom received numerous international awards, including honorary doctorates from universities in India, France, Germany, Sweden, Canada, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Norway and the United States, and she was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the US National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. Lin was deeply engaged in collaborative research on social-ecological systems and resilience thinking, expanding frameworks and understanding across the sciences, always open for new findings and thinking. She inspired, interacted and collaborated with numerous colleagues throughout the world and her true interest and engagement with young people supporting their pathways is exemplary.

Lin’s engagement with the Beijer Institute started with our research programme on property rights and natural resource systems in the early 1990s, and she interacted with us since then developing great friendship and trust. She served on the Beijer Board for six years. She inspired, interacted and collaborated with many colleagues here in Stockholm and was deeply engaged in research on social-ecological systems, robustness and resilience thinking, with critical involvement in various phases of the Resilience Alliance. Her insights offer hope – that people actually can collaborate to solve environmental challenges, urgently needed in the era of the anthropocene and global change.