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  • Introduction:The Ostroms and the Bloomington School
  • Paul Dragos Aligica

The collective work of Elinor and Vincent Ostrom has been widely recognized as an important contribution to the revival of the study of political economy and to the development of institutionalist theory in the second half of the 20th century. This contribution has many facets and as such could be approached from many different angles. Yet, irrespective of how one approaches it, it is undeniable that the Bloomington scholars' writings exemplify an exercise in political economy and institutionalism starting from the perspective of applied scholarship. How do people solve social dilemmas? What are the solutions available for collective action problems? How do people manage to govern common pool resources? What are the best ways to organize metropolitan governance? Thus, the Ostroms confront us with a challenge and an opportunity: What happens when the standard view that goes from theory to practice is reversed?

The answer, as illustrated by their work, is both intriguing and rewarding: the rediscovery and revival of a traditional perspective and mode of analysis. It is a tradition best characterized by Tocqueville's notion of "a science and art of association" and identified by him as "the mother of action, studied and applied by all," so important that "the progress of all the rest depends upon the progress it has made." Seen in that light the Bloomington scholars' effort is an attempt to synthesize the traditional perspective with contemporary developments in social sciences and thus to re-ignite it in the new intellectual and political context of the 20th century. To be fair, their work is in fact more than just a synthesis combining technical aspects [End Page 1] of contemporary social sciences with the insights of a lineage of thinkers of great distinction and impact: Locke, Montesquieu, Hume, Adam Smith, Hamilton and Madison. It is also an attempt to open up new avenues for this rejuvenated intellectual tradition and to extend its influence into the new millennium. However, the most important thing that should be mentioned is that ultimately, in the Ostroms' view, their contribution to the development of "the science of association" is inherently a contribution to the development of "the foundation of a free and democratic governance," to a system of governance that should lead us closer to the ideal of "the good society." In a word, their approach starts at the level of the practical and applied and ends up returning to the practical and applied via an exquisite tour through intellectual history, normative theory and empirical analysis. It is, in many respects, a unique performance and in any case, an impressive one.

Given all of the above, the convergence between the Ostroms' agenda and the mission and principles of the Committee for the Political Economy of the Good Society (PEGS) is not at all surprising. The various contributions made over the years by Elinor and Vincent Ostrom to its projects and to its journal, The Good Society, are in themselves a testimony of that convergence. This special issue of The Good Society is an attempt to reflect on the Ostroms' accomplishments in recognition of their constant partnership with The Committee for the Political Economy of the Good Society and its evolving project. 1 The articles focus on different aspects of the rich, multifaceted and complex work of the Bloomington scholars. They are written by authors who have different perspectives, disciplinary backgrounds and, indeed, interpretations. Their views are sometimes convergent, other times divergent. Yet, in all cases, they all share a deep understanding of the nature and significance of the Ostroms' work along with a deep commitment to the very idea of "a science and art of association," seen both as an instrument and as a feature of "the good society." This commitment, more than anything else, is what has motivated the Ostroms during their long and productive career. It is this commitment, more than anything else, that they undoubtedly would want to be passed on, by all those inspired by their writings, to new generations of scholars.


1. I would like to express my gratitude to Richard Wagner, Mike McGinnis, Steve Elkin, Jeremy Janow and Claire Morgan for the generous and...