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Institutions, Collective Action and Cooperation

Institutions, Collective Action and Cooperation

The role of institutions in shaping and constraining access to natural resources is of increasing interest to development theorists and practitioners alike. Processes of institutional change and adaptation in the post-Soviet context present particular challenges to current thinking on institutions, cooperation and collective action. New and adapted forms of association and collective action among herders and farmers in transition economies provide evidence of reconfiguration of the institutions, networks and power which frame resource use, resource access and livelihoods in the aftermath of decollectivisation. Attempts to deconstruct such transformations have only recently begun to focus on theories of collective action, social capital and group formation, particularly in the context of the penetration of developmental discourse and practice into rural, post-Soviet arenas.

Current work by Dr Upton focuses on institutional change and adaptation among Mongolian pastoralists following decollectivisation of the herding sector in the early 1990s. Drawing on theories of common pool resource (CPR) management, social capital and collective action it examines institutional path dependency and the ongoing and contested processes of institutional adaptation in recent history. It deconstructs notions of 'custom' and 'tradition' and the power of these constructs in respect of resource rights and herding practice. Assisted by a grant from the Cambridge Committee on Central and Inner Asia, recent work on this project has focused particularly on the impacts of development practice on herders' organisation, norms of cooperation and livelihoods, with particular reference to group formation in case study areas.

Funding applications are in preparation to the British Academy and ESRC to facilitate continuation of this work, in collaboration with colleagues in the Social Anthropology Department.

In addition, funding from the Isaac Newton Trust enabled exploration of policy evolution and changes in policy narratives in respect of natural resource management in Mongolia, in the context of profound institutional change.

Publications & Conference papers

  • 'Institutions in a Pastoral Society: Processes of Formation and Transformation in Post-Socialist Mongolia'. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Vol 25 (3), 2005.
  • 'Facing the Future: Mongolian Pastoralism in the Age of the Market'. Central Eurasian Studies Society 6th Annual Conference, September 2005.
  • 'Policy Evolution and Political Transformation: Change and Contestation in Policy Narratives'. Report to Isaac Newton Trust, September 2005.
  • 'Local Institutions, Biodiversity Conservation and Globalisation in Mongolia' International Association for the Study of Common Property, 9th Biennial Conference, 2002..


  • 'Collective Action, Cooperation and Group Formation: Developmental Trajectories in Post-Socialist Mongolia'. Submitted to Human Ecology, 2006.