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Being a Citizen in a Self-Governing Society

What did Elinor and Vincent Ostrom mean by citizenship? Professor Mark Pennington explains in this video.
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Throughout this course I have introduced you to some ideas that inform what might be called the ‘ideal of self-governance’. If we take on board the theoretical insights of thinkers such as Elinor and Vincent Ostrom then it should now be apparent how a new understanding of politics and society and of our role as citizens can open up. First, while debates about the appropriate role of markets and states will and should continue to inform a good deal of political discussion, the Ostroms’ work shows us that there is a much richer range of possibilities than these in thinking about how we might govern our lives.
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Second, the Ostroms’ framework points to the importance of an active citizenry in helping to shape creative solutions to governance problems. Too often in politics we think of ‘citizenship’ as being reduced to the acts of voting in elections or perhaps participating in demonstrations or writing petitions of various kinds to demand that particular policy measures are introduced. For the Ostroms, however, more than anything, active citizenship involves a willingness for individuals and communities to take responsibility themselves for addressing particular problems rather than demanding that others do the job for them.
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Third, the ‘self’ in ‘self-governance’ does not refer to an isolated individual but to a social being who has knowledge of their own community and who is willing to work creatively with others to address various governance problems through a process of agreement and consent. I hope you have enjoyed the course.

As we come to the end of our course, let’s reflect on what we have learned.

We began in week 1 by exploring collective action dilemmas that we often face when we have a common stake in a resource. While markets and states are often seen as the only possible providers of solutions to these problems, Elinor Ostrom’s work revealed an array of alternative institutional responses that we can classify as self-governing arrangements.

In week 2, we considered how these arrangements function, outlining the processes of public entrepreneurship, co-production and polycentricity. We explored how these mechanisms work in cases as diverse as guerrilla gardening associations, the Covid-19 pandemic, crime prevention, public housing, and more.

In week 3, we considered the ethical implications of these governance arrangements, examining how they affect human autonomy, inequality and discrimination. We highlighted the advantages and limitations of self-governance in addressing critical public policy problems.

As we begin to piece together the self-governance paradigm, we can reflect on the lessons it teaches us about citizenship in a democratic society. In this final video, we will make some concluding remarks about the wider implications of Elinor and Vincent Ostrom’s work.

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The Ideal of Self-Governance: Public Policy Beyond Markets and States

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