June 12, 2012

Remembering Elinor "Lin" Ostrom (1933-2012)

Peter J. Boettke

Director, F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics
Summary

It is with great sadness that we share the news that Elinor “Lin” Ostrom passed away this morning after a courageous battle with cancer. Our thoughts are with her husband and colleague Vincent. For over half a century the Ostroms collaborated side-by-side, first at UCLA and then at Indiana University, where they established the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis.

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It is with great sadness that we share the news that Elinor “Lin” Ostrom passed away this morning after a courageous battle with cancer. Our thoughts are with her husband and colleague Vincent. For over half a century the Ostroms collaborated side-by-side, first at UCLA and then at Indiana University, where they established the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis

Lin gained worldwide recognition for her contributions in 2009 when she was named the first woman recipient of the as the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel (also known at the Nobel Prize in Economics). She shared the prize that year “for her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons” with University of California’s Oliver E. Williamson. 

Long before being awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics, Lin shattered barriers as a pioneer in the field of institutional analysis and her intellectual imprint is evident throughout academia and public policy. She is best known for her work on governing the commons but she also did groundbreaking work on local public economies, and the institutional analysis of development. Her multiple methods methodology is an inspiring vision of the social and policy sciences.

While her intellectual legacy and contributions will continue to flourish due to her decades of inspiring and tireless support of students and her fellow researchers, those of us who were fortunate to work with her will greatly miss her personal imprint – the unassuming genius, always generous with her time and ideas, constantly enthusiastic about further research into the self-governing capacity of human societies. 

Despite her many honors and recognitions, Lin was special and unfailingly modest. As her fellow Nobel laureate Vernon Smith has put it, she remained throughout it all “humble and hard-working.” She was more concerned with solving the world’s problems through collaborative research than with gaining recognition for her own genius. Lin constantly sought out intellectually curious colleagues who cared passionately about improving the self-governing capacities of individuals and societies. She explained that her ultimate goal and driving force behind the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, was to aid in the education of future citizens in the science and art of association; the foundation for a society of self-governing citizens who are capable of living a democratic life. If they fail in that task, she argued, then their work must be judged ultimately as a failure as well.

The researchers at Mercatus had the benefit of a long relationship with Lin. Lin was a gracious and frequent visitor to our programs where she would visit with our graduate students and talk to them about their own research, particularly those working in the areas of the economics of self-governance, and comparative institutional analysis. Mercatus helped sponsor a Lifetime Achievement Award for Lin and Vincent back in 2003 and edited a special issue of the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization based on the papers given at that conference. Just prior to the announcement of Lin’s Nobel prize in economics, Paul Dragos Aligica and I published our book on the Ostroms, Challenging the Institutional Analysis of Development: The Bloomington School.

Our thoughts are with Vincent, Lin’s close colleagues at the Workshop, her former students, and her many friends and scientific collaborators around the world.

Related Material

VIDEO: Challenging Institutional Analysis and Development: The Bloomington School 

Introduction: The Ostroms and the Bloomington School by Paul Dragos Aligica in The Good Society
October 6, 2011

Why Those Who Value Liberty Should Rejoice: Elinor Ostrom's Nobel Prize by Peter Boettke
December 2009

EconTalk: Boettke on Elinor Ostrom, Vincent Ostrom and the Bloomington School hosted by Russ Roberts
November 30, 2009

Challenging Institutional Analysis and Development: The Bloomington School by Paul Dragos Aligica and Peter Boettke
October 2009 

Introduction: Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Lifetime Achievement Award published in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization
June 1, 2005

Rethinking Institutional Analysis: Interviews with Vincent and Elinor Ostrom with introductions by Vernon Smith and Gordon Tullock by Paul Dragos Aligica
November 7, 2003

**Photo Courtesy of Indiana University