Workshop 'Common People, Common Rules'


Welcome to the homepage of the Workshop 'Common People, Common Rules. Institutions and self-governance in historical perspective', that will be held at the Public University of Navarre, Pamplona, 30-31 October 2014.


Collective ownership and resource management is currently an important research topic among historians, anthropologists, legal experts, economists, sociologists and political scientists, not least as a consequence of the challenges the world is facing regarding the management of natural resources. During our two-day workshop we will be focussing on institutions for collective action, that are self-governing and self-regulating, in historical perspective.

At the workshop much attention will be given to the historical analysis of common land regimes, which has witnessed a clear shift in focus from the study of the abolition of commons towards the analysis of the internal logic of their functioning. By doing so, historians have engaged increasingly in interdisciplinary debates on the sustainability of institutions and have applied methods and approaches from other disciplines to evaluate the functioning of institutions for collective action in the past. Research in previous decades has repeatedly challenged the traditional view that linked collective use and management of resources with the impoverishment and depletion of those resources (the so-called “tragedy of the commons” hypothesis). Collective designs of regulations and practices, together with monitoring and enforcement mechanisms, have been identified as features needed to promote long-standing collective institutions. The drive and vitality of communal customs in some regions and their compatibility with economic growth reveals a complex process of historical change. Despite their ability to offer their users advantages in terms of scale, these institutions were not exempt from social conflict nor did they always guarantee a sustainable use of resources. Such issues have been well-studied in other social sciences, and can offer a source of inspiration for historical research.

Although much attention will be going to commons, the workshop also aims at attracting studies of the regulation of other types of self-governing institutions. In general, we aim at understanding how efficient and effective regulation can be developed, in a context of self-governing, collective institutions, both in rural and urban contexts. In such institutions, rules were designed and put into practice by the stakeholders themselves. Many questions however still remain unanswered:


  • How did stakeholders make sure that the body of rules they designed remained effective, efficient and sufficiently simple for all to understand and apply?
  • Were old rules replaced by entirely new ones, or were they simply adjusted to the new circumstances?
  • Were rules always designed according to what the local users thought was needed, or were rules copied from other examples in the vicinity?
  • How did rule-makers ensure that sanctions were avoided as much as possible?
  • What level of sanctioning was sufficient to scare off potential free-riders?


These and related questions will be at the core of the meeting.


Click on image to download flyer (pdf)

Supported by

Public University of Navarre (UPNA-NUP)

Navarrese Institute for Economic and Social History ‘Gerónimo de Uztáriz’