Taking sanctioning seriously: The impact of sanctions on the resilience of historical commons in Europe

Tine De Moor, Mike Farjam, René van Weeren, Giangiacomo Bravo, Anders Forsman, Amineh Ghorbani, Molood Ale Ebrahim Dehkordi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In their studies of collective exploitation of common-pool resources, Ostrom and other scholars have stressed the importance of sanctioning as an essential method for preventing overuse and, eventually, the collapse of commons. However, most of the available evidence is based on data covering a relatively small period in history, and thus does not inform us about the evolution of rules, including sanctions, over time. In this article, we demonstrate, based on historical sources covering several centuries, that sanctioning was not always the preferred way of preventing or dealing with free-riding in institutions for collective action, but that the legal context is decisive to understand why commoners in some countries were using more sanctions than those in others to regulate commoners' behavior. Commoners that could self-govern their resources used fewer sanctions, and when they did, it was mainly to avoid overuse of their most vulnerable resources. Moreover, graduated sanctioning seems to be less important than suggested in Ostrom's famous Design Principles, and was reserved primarily for immediate threats to the commons' resources. We also show the importance of other types of rules, such as differentiated rules, which have hardly been taken into account in literature to date.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)181-188
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Rural Studies
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Economic History

Free keywords

  • Commons
  • Sanctioning
  • Institutions for collective action
  • Free-riding


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