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Department of Geography


Institutions, agency and incentives in environment and development

Book cover
Book cover

Research on institutions, agency and incentives has developed out of original interests in institutional economics and institutional change (Vira 1997, 1995). A particular focus is on the way in which institutional change is negotiated between different social actors, and the extent to which structural factors influence the evolution of institutions and policy. Research has looked more specifically at the way in which institutions work in practice (Vira 1999b, Vira et al 1998), especially participatory and decentralised systems of natural resource management (Vira and Jeffery 2001, and Jeffery and Vira, 2001). This work has examined collective action in resource management, and the way in which field-level outcomes are a complex product of individual agency and socio-political contexts within which actions are embedded (Vira 1999a).

A related field of interest examines incentives that flow from the market as an institution, and the ways in which these incentives have been harnessed in the context of environment and development. This has included work on the complex links between international trade and environmental protection (Vira 1998), as well as research examining equity issues that emerge with the adoption of marketable permits as a tool in the climate change debate (Vira 2002).

Work in this area adopts a critical political economy approach to institutions, drawing on a broad literature in the social sciences (Vira 1999c). Methodologically, this research uses both quantitative and qualitative research tools in empirical work. There is also an evolving interest in the use of Q-methodology, a method that provides researchers a systematic and quantitative means by which to analyse qualitative data on human subjectivity (Dasgupta and Vira, 2005).

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Q-method being implemented in the field in Harda, Madhya Pradesh

Work in this area has also involved collaboration with a major DFID-funded research initiative in this area, which is being co-ordinated by the International Institute for Environment and Development. This project explores the role of markets in order to compensate upstream resource users for the provision of watershed protection services. The project focuses on comparative experiences with incipient payment mechanisms for watershed protection in six different contexts: Bolivia, the Caribbean, China, India, Indonesia and South Afica.

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Examining water management issues in the Ge-Selati catchment in Limpopo province, South Africa


  • Dasgupta, P. and Vira, B. (2005) “Q Methodology” for Mapping Stakeholder Perceptions In Participatory Forest Management, Institute of Economic Growth Working Paper Series no. E/264/2005, New Delhi: Institute of Economic Growth.
  • Vira, B. (2002) “Trading with the Enemy? Examining North-South Perspectives in the Climate Change Debate,” in D. W. Bromley and J. Paavola (eds.) Economics, Ethics and Environmental Policy: Contested Choices, Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 164-180.
  • Vira, B. and Jeffery, R. (2001) (eds.) Analytical Issues in Participatory Natural Resource Management, London and New York: Palgrave (xiv, 245 pages).
  • Jeffery, R. and Vira, B. (2001) (eds.) Conflict and Cooperation in Participatory Natural Resource Management, London and New York: Palgrave (xvi, 246 pages).
  • Vira, B. and Jeffery, R. (2001) “Introduction: Analytical Issues in Participatory Natural Resource Management,” in B. Vira and R. Jeffery (eds.) Analytical Issues in Participatory Natural Resource Management, London and New York: Palgrave, pp.1-16.
  • Jeffery, R. and Vira, B. (2001) “Introduction,” in R. Jeffery and B. Vira (eds.) Conflict and Cooperation in Participatory Natural Resource Management, London and New York: Palgrave, pp. 1-15.
  • Vira, B. (1999a) “Implementing Joint Forest Management in the Field: Towards an Understanding of the Community-Bureaucracy Interface,” in R. Jeffery and N. Sundar (eds.) A New Moral Economy for India’s Forests? New Delhi: Sage, pp. 254-275.
  • Vira, B. (1999b) “Analytical Tools for Assessing Institutional Pluralism in Forestry,” in J. Anderson (ed.) Pluralism and Sustainable Forestry and Rural Development, Rome: Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, pp. 97-113.
  • Vira, B. (1999c) “Property Rights: Clarifying the Concepts,” in D. A. Posey (ed.) Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity, London: Intermediate Technology Publications (and United Nations Environment Programme), pp. 517-520.
  • Vira, B., O. Dubois, S. E. Daniels and G. B. Walker (1998) “Institutional Pluralism in Forestry: Considerations of Analytical and Operational Tools,” Unasylva, Volume 49, No. 194, pp. 35-42.
  • Vira, B. (1998) “Environmental Regulation and Economic Deregulation: Is There a Conflict?” in G. Parry, A. Qureshi and H. Steiner (eds.) The Legal and Moral Aspects of International Trade: Freedom and Trade Volume III. London: Routledge, pp. 150-165.
  • Vira, B. (1997) “The Political Coase Theorem: Identifying Differences between Neoclassical and Critical Institutionalism,” Journal of Economic Issues, Volume XXXI, No. 3, pp. 761-779.
  • Vira, B. (1995) Rights, Property Rights and their Protection, OCEES Research Paper No. 2, Oxford: Oxford Centre for the Environment, Ethics and Society.