Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom delivers Tanner Lectures

Ostrom talked about the Institutional Analysis and Development framework as an approach to public policy during a lecture delivered Wednesday night. A lecture on Thursday examined land-management cases in the American West.

Understanding how to best manage natural resources like fisheries and forests requires expert knowledge in a broad range of academic disciplines. But without a common language to link the natural and social sciences, those best practices may be elusive, says Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom.

"We need our disciplines," Ostrom said in the first of two talks she gave this week in the Tanner Lectures on Human Values. "I'm not anti specialized knowledge. But it's not only how we use our specialized knowledge, but how we get a language that is broader that we could communicate across different disciplines."

Ostrom, who won the 2009 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for her work on the management of shared properties such as woods, lakes and fish stocks, explored her Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) framework as an approach to public policy during her first lecture, delivered Wednesday night. The IAD framework provides scholars a method for analyzing economic, political and social institutions.

"We could have a general language across disciplines," she said. "Instead of just looking inside a legislature as a political scientist would, or looking into a market the way an economist would, you've got to find ways of crossing those boundaries."

Her second lecture, based on an upcoming article she was asked to write for the 100th anniversary of the American Economic Review, explored four land-management cases in the American West.

Ostrom, a professor of political science at Indiana University, is the founding director of the Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity at Arizona State University.

Discussion seminars followed each lecture. The first, held Thursday morning, was led by Francis Fukuyama, a senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, and Charles Sabel, a law professor at Columbia University. Today's seminar will feature Margaret Levi, a professor of international studies at the University of Washington, and Barton "Buzz" Thompson Jr., director of the Woods Institute for the Environment and a professor in natural resources law at Stanford Law School. It will be held from 10 a.m. to noon in the Koret-Taube Conference Center, Room 120.

The Tanner Lectures are held annually at Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, the universities of California, Michigan and Utah, and in England at Cambridge and Oxford universities. Established in 1978 by Obert Clark Tanner, an industrialist, legal scholar and philosopher, the lectures are meant to advance and reflect upon the scholarly and scientific learning relating to human values.

At Stanford, the lectures are hosted by the Center for Ethics in Society and the President's Office.