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Open access and the sovereign commons: A political ecology of pastoral land tenure


  • Behnke, Roy


Conventional common property theory does not accurately depict the institutional arrangements that characterize many indigenous pastoral tenure systems in Africa and Asia, nor does it explain why these systems break down when exposed to markets and centralized government control. These theoretical anomalies are caused in large measure by the distinctive ways pastoralists regulate access to resources. The erratic and extensive nature of rangeland resources favours free movement to exploit fluctuations in resource availability and this promotes a degree of open access. In ungoverned or weakly governed areas, access is also regulated by political competition between sovereign territorial groups. External government control renders redundant the internal solidarity of these groups, which fragment rather than becoming officially sanctioned common property regimes. Market exposure exacerbates this process. The development of class interests and private property marks the emergence in these societies of the economy as a distinct sphere of social organization. Grounded in classical economic theory that presumes the prior existence of the economy, common property theory is ill equipped to comprehend this transition.

Suggested Citation

  • Behnke, Roy, 2018. "Open access and the sovereign commons: A political ecology of pastoral land tenure," Land Use Policy, Elsevier, vol. 76(C), pages 708-718.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:lauspo:v:76:y:2018:i:c:p:708-718
    DOI: 10.1016/j.landusepol.2018.02.054

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    References listed on IDEAS

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