1st Edition

Balancing the Commons in Switzerland Institutional Transformations and Sustainable Innovations

    322 Pages 41 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    322 Pages 41 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Balancing the Commons in Switzerland outlines continuity and change in the management of common-pool resources such as pastures and forests in Switzerland.

    The book focuses on the differences and similarities between local institutions (rules and regulations) and forms of commoners’ organisations (corporations of citizens and corporations) which have managed common property for several centuries and have shaped the cultural landscapes of Switzerland. At the core of the book are five case studies from the German, French and Italian speaking regions of Switzerland. Beginning in the Late Middle Ages and focusing on the transformative periods in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it traces the internal and external political, economic and societal changes and examines what impact these changes had on commoners. It goes beyond the work of Robert Netting and Elinor Ostrom, who discussed Swiss commons as a unique case of robustness, by analysing how local commoners reacted to, but also shaped, changes by adapting and transforming common property institutions. Thus, the volume highlights how institutional changes in the management of the commons at the local level are embedded in the public policies of the respective cantons, and the state, which generates a high heterogeneity and an actual laboratory situation. It shows the power relations and very different routes that local collective organisations and their members have followed in order to cope with the loss of value of the commons and the increased workload for maintaining common property management. Providing insightful case studies of commons management, this volume delivers theoretical contributions and lessons to be learned for the commons worldwide.

    This book will be of great interest to students and scholars of the commons, natural resource management and agricultural development.

    Prologue: Why Switzerland

    Jon Mathieu

    1 Ostrom’s legacy of robustness and the ‘Swiss commons lab’: Introductory reflections on change and power in commons studies

    Tobias Haller, Jean-David Gerber, Karina Liechti, Stéphane Nahrath, Christian Rohr, Martin Stuber, François-Xavier Viallon and Rahel Wunderli

    PART I Disciplinary approaches and theoretical reflections

    2 Transformations of common pastures and woodlands in Switzerland: A historical perspective

    Martin Stuber and Rahel Wunderli

    3 How do the commons meet the state? A political science perspective

    François-Xavier Viallon and Stéphane Nahrath

    4 Commons and peasant studies: Insights from social anthropology, human geography and agrarian economics

    Tobias Haller, Karina Liechti And Stefan Mann

    PART II Case studies

    5 Scopes and challenges of a huge corporation over time: The case of the Korporation Uri (Canton Uri)

    Rahel Wunderli

    6 Urban commons in Alpine areas: The case of the Bürgergemeinde Chur (Canton Grisons)

    Martin Stuber

    7 Transformation, diversification, partnerships: The case of the Sarnen commoners’ organisations (Canton Obwalden)

    Karina Liechti

    8 Weak commons management, strong identity: The case of Val d’Anniviers (Canton Valais)

    François-Xavier Viallon

    9 A fragile balance?: The case of pasture and forest management in Olivone (Canton Ticino)

    Mark Bertogliati

    PART III Synthesis

    10 Transformation and diversity: Synthesis of the case studies

    Tobias Haller, Mark Bertogliati, Karina Liechti, Martin Stuber, François-Xavier Viallon and Rahel Wunderli


    Tobias Haller is Professor in Social Anthropology and Managing Director of the Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Bern, Switzerland. He is the leading author of The Commons in a Glocal World (Routledge, 2019).

    Karina Liechti is a Senior Research Scientist at the Centre for Development and Environment CDE and at the Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Bern, Switzerland.

    Martin Stuber is Senior Scientist at the Institute of History, University of Bern, Switzerland.

    François-Xavier Viallon is a Political Scientist at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland.

    Rahel Wunderli is a Postdoctoral Assistant at the Institute of History, University of Bern, Switzerland.