Using institutional arrangements to teach undergraduates about commons in Thailand, and beyond

Laura S. Meitzner Yoder, Abram Bicksler


How can we introduce more people to the concepts of commons and institutions earlier in their careers?  Despite the wide variety of academic fields that contribute to commons research, there are few undergraduate university courses that center on this theme. This study describes how a study abroad program in Thailand uses guiding questions about institutional arrangements to teach North American undergraduate students about commons resource-dependent communities' control and access regarding coasts, forests, and rivers.  Components that will enable students to transfer this learning to other, more familiar settings are built into the field-based courses.  This paper outlines how students learn institution-focused questioning on history of local resource management groups, resource access and use, exclusionary mechanisms, strategic collaborations, and power relations in very unfamiliar contexts.  Through the lens of political ecology, the paper describes how focusing on institutions has shaped students’ understanding of the commons, and how they have been able to transfer their newly acquired institutional perspective to a range of situations in their home contexts.


Commons; institutions; pedagogy; political ecology; sustainability education; Thailand

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