Elinor Ostrom

Indiana University

August 7, 1933 - June 12, 2012

Scientific Discipline: Human Environmental Sciences
Membership Type:
Member (elected 2001)

Political economist Elinor Ostrom was one of the first to prove that small communities around the world were capable of developing collective, self-governing institutions that would prevent over-exploitation of communal resources. She discovered that human beings have tended to formulate sensible rules to help maintain resources that are used on an everyday basis. Her work challenged common economic assumptions by disproving the “tragedy of the commons,” which states that humans will overuse any asset that is available freely. Her work suggested that government regulation was not necessarily needed to protect public resources.

Ostrom earned both her MA degree and her PhD in political science from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1962 and 1965. She and her husband, Vincent Ostrom, founded the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University in 1973. She spent a significant amount of her time conducting research in the field, which is considered unusual, since most economists are trained to put emphasis on mathematical and econometric methods. Her groundbreaking discoveries and unconventional research methods resulted in her winning numerous awards and honors, as seen when she became the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2009.

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