CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY Volume 47, Number 5, October 2006
Sociocultural Heterogeneity and the Commons
Lore M. Ruttan
The effect of social and cultural heterogeneity on collective action and the management of natural resources is disputed. Some researchers have claimed that there are broadly negative effects, largely due to reduced levels of trust. Others have argued that there are specific positive effects; political entrepreneurs may appear who instigate collective action. Here, alternative predictions derived from these competing claims are tested against data on 40 fisheries and 54 irrigation cases contained in the Common-pool Resource Database. Results do not support the hypothesis that sociocultural heterogeneity is associated with positive outcomes, and in fact, among the irrigation cases, more entrepreneurial activity is observed when there is homogeneity. However, there is good support for the argument that trust is required for successful outcomes and that heterogeneity can limit levels of trust. In this respect, it is notable that differences in cultural view of the resource are salient in fisheries whereas differences in social categories matter in irrigation systems. Finally, the impact of heterogeneity depends heavily on how success is defined.