UA Professor to Attend Nobel Ceremony

University of Arizona Professor Edella Schlager will travel to Stockholm in early December for the week of activities that surround the annual Nobel Prize ceremony on Dec. 10.

Schlager, a professor in the School of Government and Public Policy in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, was invited by her former academic mentor, Elinor Ostrom, who won the 2009 Nobel Prize in economic science.

Ostrom is the Arthur F. Bentley Professor of Political Science and co-director of the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University.

"Professor Edella Schlager is a highly valued colleague with whom I have worked on several projects through the years," said Ostrom. "I have learned a great deal from our association. I invited her as one of my guests because she has made such a big difference in the way I've conceptualized property rights."

"It is a great honor for the UA School of Government and Public Policy to have one of our faculty invited to attend the presentation of the Nobel Prize in economics," said Director Brint Milward. "It is noteworthy that it is being presented to a woman for the first time and to a political scientist."

Ostom and Schlager began working together in 1986 at Indiana University when Ostrom became Schlager's dissertation adviser.

"She was an excellent mentor," said Schlager. "She treated her students like colleagues.

"Lin was just getting started with the work that she ended up getting the Nobel Prize for, which was how groups of users manage natural resources as common property," said Schlager.

Schlager said that, at the time, most researchers believed that the "tragedy of the commons" explained most natural resource management problems. It was generally accepted that common ownership resulted in excessive exploitation of resources because "there was a race to harvest as much as possible," said Schlager.

Government regulation was thought to be the answer.

Ostrom suspected that the reality was much more complex and she wanted to move beyond a narrow economic model that assumes people will always pursue their own narrow self interest.

She attacked the problem several ways, including creating a series of games and experiments that replicated the basic decision-making problems that natural resource users face. She also worked with biologists and ecologists to understand how different kinds of natural resources behave.

Schlager along with two other graduate students helped with the research and data collection.

"I focused on coastal fisheries," says Schlager. "Generally what we found is that there are different types of problems that fishermen are very good at addressing and creating their own sets of rules for."

Schlager also worked to identify different property right systems and how they performed.

Ostrom and her team found that in many cases common resources were managed successfully by the people who used them and that their arrangements were better matched to the setting, allocated risk more fairly and were easier to monitor and comply with compared to government-imposed regulations.

Ostrom and Schlager are co-authors of five publications, and still collaborate frequently.

"All the work I'm currently doing is based on her theories and frameworks and trying to extend them into new areas," said Schlager.

Meanwhile Schlager is busy getting ready for the festivities. "I'm shopping," she laughed. "I already have purchased my ball gown."
Contact Info

Edella Schlager

School of Government and Public Policy


Brint Milward, director

School of Government and Public Policy


milward@email.arizona. edu