In Memoriam: Elinor Ostrom (1933 - 2012)



On June 12, 2012, Prof. dr. Elinor Ostrom, Nobel Prize Winner in Economic Sciences 2009, passed away at the age of 78. 


A scholar who practiced what she preached


Elinor Ostrom’s work has formed a major inspiration for all researchers of institutions for collective action. Both the 8 design principles, published in her book Governing the commons. The evolution of institutions for collective action (1990), as well as the Institutional Analysis and Development Framework developed by Ostrom and her colleagues at Indiana University have been applied in a wide range of studies on resource management and self-organized governance systems. For her analysis of economic governance, and in particular her work on commons, she received in 2009 the Nobel Prize for Economics and she was recently included in Time Magazine’s 2012 list of the “100 most influential people in the world”.


The Nobel Prize gave Lin the recognition she already had among many many scholars in her field. Her outstanding scholarship, her interdisciplinary approach, her excellence in all parts of research (field research, methodology etc.), the way she collaborated with other researchers, and her vibrant personality: Lin embodied what an excellent scholar should be. She really practiced what she preached: collaboration, concern, a spirit of community. Together with her husband Vincent she built up the Workshop for Political Theory and Policy Analysis and made it into a real academic home, a reference point for many scholars around the world. She was standing at the cradle of the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC) and helped the association to grow throughout the years. Many of the IASC-members will remember those magical moments when Lin opened the conference: she got on stage, addressed the audience with great enthusiasm and energy, and got the conference started in a way that no one else could. Over the past few months Lin – who was aware that the end was near – took part in several events all over the globe. Lin was a modest person, but I think she did realise how big the impact of her presence at meetings had become, in particular since the Nobel Prize. Looking back at her list of appearances over the past few months, it leaves the impression that this was her way to make the very most of the time she had left.


She was moreover a passionate and compassionate person, with a personal interest in helping out scholars, particularly those from the developing South. Although she met the big and mighty of this world, Lin cared about anyone who showed a genuine interest in commons and related issues. I remember meeting her for the first time at Indiana University in 2001. I was a young PhD-student, working on the history of commons. I was in the Midwest, and wanted to spend some time in the workshop and its magnificent library. Although she did not do any historical research herself, Lin was very interested in the history of commons, as she also demonstrated in her books. I was at the very beginning of my own academic career, but Lin apparently did not bother about that and made sure that those few days I was in Bloomington were never to be forgotten. For myself, meeting Lin during that first short visit to the workshop was  of vital importance, for my own research, but maybe even more for how to act as a researcher and how to build a community of researchers. I sincerely hope this spirit of cooperation and exchange will continue to live on at the workshop and within the wider community of commons-researchers. We will miss her enormously and our thoughts go to in particular her husband Vincent.


Lin Ostrom would have been the opening key-note speaker at the conference our team organises later this year on the topic of design and dynamics of institutions for collective action, a topic right at the core of her research. We will now dedicate our conference to Lin’s memory and legacy.  


Tine De Moor



> Link to the In Memoriam-page on the IASC-website