Norm, network, and commons: The invisible hand of community

Raul P. Lejano, Francisco Fernandez de Castro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Formal models of collective action invariably presume individually rational actors and utility maximizing behavior. Ostrom reasoned that, if communities act to solve collective action problems, it is because of the strategic advantage of cooperative behavior in repeated game situations. In this article, we argue that, along with this logic, there are also instances when collective action arises out of other motivations - e.g., other-regard, tradition, empathy, and others that do not translate to individual rationality. Our new model formally depicts this using decision parameters that lie outside of individual utility and employs non-utilitarian decision logics - i.e., a vector payoff model that is more general than extant attempts at modeling other-regard. We review the literature that justifies this alternative model and illustrate it in real-world situations, such as recycling, that are better explained by the new model. The new model formally explains the power of non-community-like social networks in engendering collective action. In conclusion, we suggest that society is ridden with institutions that prevent people from acting upon intrinsic norms of fairness and empathy. In contrast, when we refashion institutional practices to increase recognition (i.e., identifiability of the recipients of one's actions), then we allow people to act in ways true to their authentic selves.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)73-85
Number of pages13
JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
StatePublished - Feb 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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