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  • Constitutional Artisanship and Institutional Diversity:Elinor Ostrom, Vincent Ostrom, and the Workshop
  • Filippo Sabetti (bio)

A story is told around the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University that when Elinor Ostrom received a call from Nobel representatives in the very early morning of October 10, 2009, her words to Vincent, her spouse and colleague, went something like this: "Wake up, honey. We have won a prize." 1 The emphasis on "we" is not surprising as Elinor Ostrom—Lin for many of us—has always acknowledged that "none of us [at the Workshop] could have achieved what we have done without [Vincent's] inspiration, criticism, encouragement, and help." 2 Thus, Lin's selection as a recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences also helped to spotlight the pioneering quest of Vincent to understand public affairs. As the good news spread, the Workshop was inundated with congratulatory messages from Workshoppers around the world, sharing in the "we have won a prize" celebration. I and other first-generation Workshoppers joined the present sixth-generation in a chorus of congratulations. 3

For me, it all started, in the spring of 1968, when I had the good fortune of receiving a telephone call from Lin, then the graduate advisor in the Department of Government (as it was called at that time), urging me to choose Indiana University for graduate studies in political science. She challenged me to learn more about a new and exciting interdisciplinary field of public choice that also drew on the Italian school of public finance and fiscal theory. For the first time I heard someone stressing the importance of the works of James M. Buchanan and Gordon Tullock, whose papers I had distractedly noticed in earlier issues of Il Politico, a University of [End Page 73] Pavia journal edited by Bruno Leoni. He had welcomed their contributions when most Anglo-American non-economic journals were not so readily disposed to their innovative thinking. After accepting a position in the 1968 class of graduate students, who formed the first generation of Workshoppers, I found that indeed Buchanan and Tullock were among the pillars of the Workshop curriculum.

In the fall of 1968, I took my first graduate course with Vincent Ostrom. The course was based on readings derived largely from classical texts on America and the first generation of public choice scholars. It was not an easy course for me not just because that was my first introduction to readings like The Federalist, Democracy in America, Leviathan, The Calculus of Consent and The Logic of Collective Action but also because I was confronted with a novel approach to these texts. It was the approach to pursue the logic of the propositions as testable hypotheses (at least by experience, if not by rigorous field research) that set Vincent's teaching apart. No one read these books as he did. I was attracted by his challenge and philosophical vision and thus became one of Vincent's Ph.D. students. I served as his Teaching Assistant in two of his undergraduate courses—a most enriching experience for me as well as for the undergraduates. By now, I have read all of Vincent's scholarship since 1968 and much of his earlier work.

In the earlier years of the Ostroms' tenure at Indiana University, Vincent had the heavier teaching schedule. By the early 1970s, Lin's courses applying the Workshop's theoretical conceptions in rigorous fieldwork of police studies as well as in other modes of quantitative analysis and modeling, including game theory, had became part of the core curriculum, complementing Vincent's "macro theoretic" approach with empirical studies and "micro theory." Although I somehow missed taking a course from Lin, I experienced what anyone who has read Lin's work, beginning soon after she completed her Ph.D. in 1965 through her most recent award winning works, cannot help but see: the amazing creativity and innovative thinking that were a mainstay at the Workshop. She combined these qualities with a human touch that was genuine, generous and disarming. Her positivity and humility about life were sources of encouragement and strength for all of us and for me in particular...