Remembering the Ostroms
| Peter Klein |
Indiana University’s Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis has a memorial section for the Elinor and Vincent Ostrom, both of whom passed away this year. Here’s my colleague David O’Brien:
I was a graduate student in Sociology at Indiana University in the late 1960s when I was looking for some courses in Political Science to fulfill the requirements for a minor. I had signed up for a course but the professor left for another university and somehow, by default, I took Lin’s course on “Political Calculus.” Like so many others in my discipline at the time I saw the world from a zero-sum conflict perspective. At the beginning of the semester I felt like I was in intermediate Chinese and had not taken the basic course. Riker’s Theory of Political Coalitions and Buchanan and Tullock’s Calculus of Consent were among the many readings that baffled me. What I remember most about Lin’s teaching was her enthusiasm and the fun she was having in doing her work. There were a lot of serious, somewhat dour, professors around in the late 1960s and not many women in teaching positions in the social sciences. So Lin stood out by her demeanor as well as her intellectual gifts. She had genuine concern for other human beings, including someone like me who did not have a clue as to what was going on and she persistently nudged me to keep an open mind about how I would approach the world as a social scientist. She did something very unusual in those days, which was to suggest that the boundaries between disciplines were artificial.
I did not fully appreciate Lin Ostrom’s influence on my scholarly life until many years after I left IU. Her encouragement to look beyond the disciplinary walls led me to use Mancur Olson’s Logic of Collective Action, one of the books assisgned in the Political Calculus course, as the theoretical foundation of my first work on urban neighborhood organization. Her encouragement for working across disciplines encouraged me to work in partnership with psychologists, political scientists and economists on a variety of research projects find a comfortable home in a Division of Applied Social Sciences.
I thoroughly enjoyed my conversations with Vincent, who became a member of my dissertation committee. He helped me to understand how collective action challenges that we face in our day are analytically similar to those faced centuries ago. I am especially grateful to Vincent for introducing me to the importance of constitutions and federalism, but also to Tocqueville’s observations of the relationship between “association” and “habits of the heart.” Vincent’s insightful observations on the complex relationships between formal and informal institutions have had a significant impact on my approach to household and village adaptations to post-command economy transitions in the former Soviet Union and East Africa.
Most important, Lin and Vincent led by example. They were genuinely kind human beings who were always willing to listen to others and encourage them, engage in spirited debate and thoroughly enjoyed doing applied scholarship.