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Research Guides

ENVS 490: Tragedy of the Commons

Research Seminar in Environmental Studies

Mind Thinking & Outlining

Synthesis Matrix (from John Glover and Nita Bryant)

As you read, you'll encounter various ideas, disagreements, methods, and perspectives which can be hard to organize in a meaningful way.

A synthesis matrix helps you record the main points of each source and document how sources relate to each other.

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Taking Notes and Citing

Reference Managers

Reference managers are tools that help you keep track of your research, collaborate with other and create bibliographies. Here is a brief rundown of three major reference managers:

Formatting Citations

Many library databases have features to give you citations in approximate versions of standard formats like MLA. Reference managers automatically format citations to approximately correct. If you use one, you still will need to check the citations for correctness. If you don't use an automated tool, you'll need to get your citations formatted.

Defining the Tragedy

Possible characteristics of a Tragedy of the Commons:

  • No technological solution
  • Finite resource
  • Maximizing one good thing diminishes another good thing
  • Choices between "incommensurable" goods not always explicit
  • Failure of invisible hand: rational pursuit of individual good doesn't contribute to collective good
  • Solutions are coercive, limit individual freedom, and at least initially are objectionable
  • "Tragedy" in the way the system works -- rational action by individuals produces tragedy inexorably
  • Conditions (e.g. low population density) that previously prevented overuse no longer exist
  • Denial of the tragedy is beneficial to individuals
  • "Morality is system-sensitive"
  • Potential for custodians of resources to be corrupted
  • Appeals to conscience fail because people who are unresponsive to the appeal simply use more when those who are responsive use less