The Ostroms on Self-Governance: The Importance of Cybernetics

Originally published in Journal of Institutional Economics

The paper reveals a novel and perhaps surprising ingredient in the mix of influences that inspired and informed the work of Elinor and Vincint Ostrom on self-governance: cybernetics, understood as a theory of control via feedback mechanisms. Based on this crucial insight, the paper portrays self-governance as involving an architecture of multiple levels of so-called ‘second order’ feedback mechanisms. Such compounded systems of organisation are the key to understanding any self-governance process and the paper argues that their intrinsic logic provides a critical link between the work of the Ostroms and the public choice and constitutional political economy perspectives on institutional order. The paper thereby offers both a fresh perspective on the Ostromian view of self-governance and also of also of governance theory in general.

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