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The Geography of the Commons: The Role of Scale and Space

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The “tragedy of the commons” is a concept familiar to students of resource management, and many academic disciplines have devoted considerable attention to its understanding and solution. Despite a long tradition of concern with issues directly related to the problem, the field of geography has been relatively silent in the commons literature, especially on the theoretic front. The present article attempts to address this shortcoming by applying geographic methodologies—particularly as related to scale and space—to an understanding of the phenomenon. The article first demonstrates the role of sociopolitical scale in defining the commons problem and then develops a typology classifying common resources into one of three categories—open access, fugitive, and migratory—based on spatial relationships between resources and resource users. The article shows that the geographic nature of the commons problem for any particular resource depends on the sociopolitical scale at which it is assessed, and suggests that solutions to commons problems should vary both by scale and by spatial nature.
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Keywords: common property; open access; resource management; scale; transboundary

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2003-06-01

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