I was very sad to read this morning that Elinor Ostrom has died. Lin ran the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University, where she was also Distinguished Professor and Arthur F. Bentley Professor of Political Science in the College of Arts and Sciences and professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs.
Lin won the 2009, Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences and was chosen in 2012 for Time magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. She was a MacArthur “Genius” award winner, former president of the American Political Science Association, and recipient of our own Tisch College research prize, which she is receiving here:
I find I have blogged about her or her work 23 times already. For example:
- My first visit to the Indiana Workshop (April 2004). Lin had established the Workshop in the 1960s as a weekly brown-bag seminar. The seminar never skipped a week, but the Workshop expanded into an international center for research, education, and outreach.
- Arguing against Stanley Fish, I used Lin to show that there’s no tradeoff between scholarly excellence and public engagement. She was on her way to winning the Nobel for insights that she gained through public engagement.
- I listed her among several other exemplary “academics who promote democracy.”
- I plugged the book Understanding Knowledge as a Commons: From Theory to Practice, edited by Charlotte Hess and Elinor Ostrom, in which I have a chapter.
- I announced Lin’s visit to Tufts.
- I claimed her Nobel Prize for “civic studies.”
- I announced a special issue of the journal The Good Society about Ostrom, with contributions by my friends Harry Boyte and Karol Soltan, and my own essay entitled “Seeing Like a Citizen: The Contributions of Elinor Ostrom to ‘Civic Studies.’”
Lin started as a graduate student of Vincent Ostrom, who survives her. She was a woman, an untenured “trailing spouse” in the one-college town of Bloomington, and she studied unfashionable topics, like local governance. Her perspective ran counter to dominant trends in modernity, especially the idea that centralization brings efficiency. She had profound respect for ordinary people’s wisdom, but that didn’t turn into pious enthusiasm. Instead, she tested hypotheses about collective action with the utmost rigor, using laboratory experiments, data from field work on several continents, and rational-choice models. The result was a glorious achievement that will long outlive her–but we’ll miss the warm and and kind human being.