Elinor Ostrom (1933-2012)

A true pioneer on interdisciplinary science for sustainability

Centre mourns passing of Elinor Ostrom

Stockholm Resilience Centre mourns the passing of one of the most inspirational and important individuals for the development of social-ecological research. Ostrom, 78, died of cancer 12 June at IU Health Bloomington Hospital surrounded by friends.

At Indiana University, she was senior research director of the Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Distinguished Professor and Arthur F. Bentley Professor of Political Science in the College of Arts and Sciences, and professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

Ostrom was also a member of the Stockholm Resilience Centre board.

Truly transdisciplinary
"Lin", as she was called among friends and colleagues, was also the founding director of the Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity at Arizona State University. Through an interdisciplinary approach that combined theory, field studies and laboratory experiments, she showed that people are capable of creating rules-in-use, institutions that allow for the sustainable and equitable management of shared resources.

An Indiana University faculty member since 1965, Ostrom has conducted research on topics ranging from the effectiveness of urban police departments to the management of groundwater basins, irrigation systems, pasture lands, forests and fisheries.

She was instrumental in the development of the International Association for the Study of Common Property, and her work on common pool resource management has been truly influential with the well known book "Governing the Commons: the Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action," as a prominent example of her numerous publications.

Lin not only provided groundbreaking insights on collective action for sustainable stewardship at the scale of landscapes and societies. She was also heavily engaged in the institutional dimensions of global sustainability, providing leadership to the development of Future Earth, the new global science initiative on Earth system research for global sustainability.

A unique spirit
Indeed, if there was one thing Elinor Ostrom taught the world, it was that the commons perhaps was not such a tragic place after all.

She countered the conventional wisdom that only private ownership or top-down regulation could prevent a "tragedy of the commons," in which users would inevitably destroy the resources that they held in common.

"It has been a privilege and such a great pleasure for us to have Lin as a close colleague and friend. We first met at the Beijer Institute's research programme on property rights and natural resource systems in the early 1990s, and have interacted since then developing great friendship and trust. She has a been a true source of inspiration. Her support in the development of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, advicing us and serving on our board has meant a lot and her engagement with young people supporting their pathways is exemplary," says centre science director Carl Folke.

"Lin's cooperative spirit, enthusiasm, engagements and her intellectual sharpness combined with curiosity and excitement about new ideas was simply unique. A true pioneer on interdisciplinary science for sustainability working in a such a robust and systematic fashion progressing knowledge and understanding. She inspired, interacted and collaborated with many colleagues here in Stockholm and was deeply engaged in research on social-ecological systems, robustness and resilience thinking with critical involvement in various phases of the Resilience Alliance. It is such a big loss."

Among world's most influential people
As the first woman ever, Professor Elinor Ostrom received the 2009 Prize in Economic Sciences in memory of Alfred Nobel "for her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons" and groundbreaking research on the ways that people organize themselves to manage resources.

In April 2012, she was named to the Time 100, Time magazine's annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. She was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the US National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.

She received numerous international awards, including honorary doctorates from universities in India, France, Germany, Sweden, Canada, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Norway and the United States. She has served on the editorial boards of more than two dozen academic journals and is the author of hundreds of articles and chapters and more than two dozen books.

Her imprint will continue to inspire, influence and guide researchers and decision-makers world wide.

Stockholm Resilience Centre is a collaboration between Stockholm University and the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

Stockholm Resilience Centre
Stockholm University, Kräftriket 2B
Phone: +46 8 674 70 70

Organisation number: 202100-3062
VAT No: SE202100306201