Scientific and societal relevance of (studying) institutions for collective action


To meet the many challenges Europe is facing – from energy provision to the declining welfare state – citizens have since approximately 2005 set up many new citizen collectivities, often as cooperatives or mutuals. While such institutions for collective action (hereafter ICAs) are today often considered as new and revolutionary, they have a long history in Europe. In (amongst others) the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Spain, and Germany a first “wave” of collective action has been detected in the early modern period, starting around 1000, with many surviving for centuries, in the form of commons, irrigation communities, beguinages, waterboards, and guilds in all their varieties. And although a Europe-wide, government-driven dissolution of these early modern ICAs took place in the late 18th-early 19th centuries, ICAs re-emerged during 1880-1920, in the form of cooperatives, labour unions and mutuals. Though in the current debate on ICAs there is a broad agreement that the newly founded institutions are part of the same movement, this perspective is rare among historians and little knowledge is shared between scholars of different archetypes of ICAs and between disciplines. Combining insights from, amongst others, behavioural economics, organisation sciences, sociology and political sciences with the longitudinal perspectives and historical data could greatly enhance our understanding of the functioning of ICAs – applied to various sectors – and of the growth potential of both the current “wave” as of the individual ICAs. Historical insights are also much needed to understand the impact of external factors (demographic, economic, environmental, political factors) on the capacity of recently set-up ICAs to evolve as resilient organisations. Building a theory that can bring together various disciplinary perspectives in a longitudinal approach would moreover answer to the growing societal needs as expressed by governments and ICAs for applicable advice on how to support and manage this “new” form of resource governance that is now burgeoning across Europe.


Besides the cross-fertilisation in theories and explanations this could bring along a better understanding of the role of ICAs in the formation of the European economy and welfare state, it will also improve our understanding of how some types of institutions were linked to each other, though they are usually studied separately. For the Netherlands, for example, commons surface across the area from approximately 1100 onwards in the form of markegenootschappen (a rather closed form whereby the commoners manage their land collectively, but largely autonomously from local powers) and meenten (which were more open, often also involving local governments in the management). After the dissolution of commons in many Western-European countries, we see the emergence of agricultural cooperatives towards the last quarter of the 19th century, whereby farmers collectively shared and managed production material (e.g. in dairy) much alike the commons did until the 1850s. Similarly, an evolution has been identified for various EU-countries from merchant guilds to crafts guilds. However, in the 16th century journeymen choose to set up their own ICAs, to organise insurance, in so-called journeymen’s boxes. In terms of functionality, these later evolved in mutuals (insurances) and (later) in trade unions (labour conditions) in the 19th century. On the other hand, some types of ICAs disappeared at some point without their functions being taken over by other ICAs, such as the beguinages, as their original reasons to exist disappeared. Finally, there are archetypes, such as the waterboards, that over time changed little, and managed to survive until today.


Here you can find an overview of the work done by our team members on:


  • Haller, T., Breu, T., De Moor, T., Rohr, C., Znoj, H., 2019. Commons in a ‘Glocal’ World: Global Connections and Local Responses, edited volume on Commons in Europe and Global Interrelations, Abingdon / New York: Routledge.
  • Forsman, A., Ale Ebrahim Dehkordi, M., Bravo, G., De Moor, T., Farjam, M., Ghorbani, A., and van Weeren, R. (in press, 2020). Eco-evolutionary perspectives on emergence, dispersion and dissolution of    historical Dutch commons. Accepted for publication in PLoS One.
  • Bravo, G., De Moor, T., Farjam, M., van Weeren, R., Ghorbani, A., Ale Ebrahim Dehkordi, M., and Forsman, A. (2020). Shared patterns in long-term dynamics of commons as institutions for collective action. International Journal of the Commons 14 (1), 78-90. doi:
  • Laborda Peman, M. and De Moor, T., 2016. History and the commons: A necessary conversation. International Journal of the Commons, 10 (2), 517-528.
  • De Moor, T., Lana Berasaín, J.M., Laborda Peman, M., van Weeren, R. & Winchester, A., 2016. Ruling the commons. Introducing a new methodology for the analysis of historical commons. International Journal of the Commons, 10 (2), 529-588.
  • De Moor, T. and Weeren, R. van, 2014. Controlling the commoners: Methods to prevent, detect, and punish free-riding on Dutch commons in the early modern period. The Agricultural history review 62 (2), 256-277.
  • Laborda Pemán, M. and De Moor, T., 2013. A tale of two commons: some preliminary hypotheses on the long-term development of the commons in Western and Eastern Europe, 1000-1900. International Journal of the Commons 7(1), 7-33.
  • De Moor, T., 2012. Review Article: What do we have in common? A comparative framework for old and new literature on the commons. International Review of Social History 57(2), 269-290.
  • De Moor, T., 2011, From common pastures to global commons: A historical perspective on int   erdisciplinary approaches to commons. Natures Sciences Sociétés 19(4), 422-431.
  • De Moor, T., 2008. The Silent Revolution: a new perspective on the emergence of commons, guilds, and other forms of corporate collective action in Western Europe. International Review of Social History 53(Supplement 16; special issue on guilds), 175-208.
  • Bravo, G. and De Moor, T., 2008. The commons in Europe: from past to future. International Journal of    the Commons 2(2), 155-161.
  • De Moor, T., 2007. The past is not another country. The long-term historical development of commons as a source of inspiration for research and policy. Commons-Digest, Quarterly Publication of the International Association for the Study of the Commons (4), 1-4.
  • Bravo, G. and De Moor, T. (IASCP Europe Regional Meeting Organizers), 2006. Building the European commons: Report of the IASCP Europe Regional Meeting. CPR-Digest, Quarterly Publication of the International Association for the Study of Common Property (77), 1-4.
  • De Moor, T. 2020. Meer ruimte voor de ‘commons’? Sociale Vraagstukken[23/05/2020; in Dutch]. Online at
  • De Moor, T., 2012.“In tempore non suspecto”. Understanding the historical roots of Europe's commons dilemmas. The Commons Digest 12(Winter 2012), 3
  • De Moor, T., 2019. From historical institution to pars pro toto. The commons and their revival in historical perspective. In: Handbook of the commons, eds. B. Hudson, D.H. Cole, and J. Rosenbloom, Ch. 24. S.l.: Taylor and Francis.
  • De Moor, T. and Tukker, A., 2015. Survival without sanctioning. The relationship between institutional resilience and methods to deal with freeriding on early modern Dutch commons. In: Jahrbuch für Geschichte des ländlichen Raumes [Rural History Yearbook] 2015, 12, Ländliche Gemeingüter/Rural Commons, eds. N. Grüne, J. Hübner, and G. Siegl, 175-206. Innsbruck/Vienna/Bolzano: StudienVerlag.
  • De Moor, T., 2014. Co-operating for the future: inspiration from the European past to develop public-collective partnerships and transgenerational co-operatives. In: Protecting future generations through commons: what can social, intergenerational & distributive justice approaches learn from the commons, Council of Europe “Trends in social cohesion” Series, eds. S. Bailey, G. Farrell, and U. Mattei, 75-99. Strasbourg: Council of Europe Publishing.
  • Warde, P., De Moor, M., and Shaw-Taylor, L., 2002. Comparing the historical commons of north west Europe. An introduction. In: The management of common land in north west Europe, c. 1500-1850(CORN publication series nr. 8), eds. Martina De Moor et al., 15-32., Turnhout: Brepols.
  • De Moor, M., Shaw-Taylor, L., and Warde, P., 2002. Preliminary conclusions. The commons of north west Europe. In: The management of common land in north west Europe, c. 1500-1850(CORNpublication series nr. 8), eds Martina De Moor et al., 247-261. Turnhout: Brepols.



  • Vriens, E., & De Moor, T. 2020. Mutuals on the move: exclusion processes in the welfare state and the rediscovery of mutualism. In: Social Inclusion, 8(1), 225–237.
  • Vriens, E., Buskens, V., & de Moor, T. 2019. Networks and new mutualism: how embeddedness influences commitment and trust in small mutuals. Socio-Economic Review, (20191106).