Commons represent a type of institutional arrangement that is older
than the democratic state. Historically, their partial disappearance is
caused more by State intervention (Buck Cox, 1985) than by internal
institutional arrangements leading to an eventual devastation of resources
as in “the tragedy of the commons” (Hardin, 1968). Forest commons that
still exist in industrialised societies are inevitably embedded in the
logic of liberal democracy, and this logic, as shall be demonstrated here,
tends to clash with that of the commons. This raises the question of who
can, or should, act as the guarantor for the commons’ system of property
In a number of studies, commons are analysed by elucidating the
institutional arrangements under which they operate (Feeny et al, 1990,
Ostrom, 1990, Arnold, 1993, Burger and Gochfeld, 1998). The basic
methodological idea demonstrated in these studies is that research on
institutions ought to be carried out within the systems themselves.
Accordingly, it is assumed that people (the actors) are the creators of
institutional arrangements, and not that institutions are themselves the
sole cause of systems of actions (Carlsson, 1996). This view is consistent
with Giddens’ (1984) theory of structuration, which predicates that actors
have the role of structuring and of being structured by a system.
This is the basic idea of duality of structure.
If we assume that actors are governed purely by norms and values, our
basic problem as researchers is to explain where these values and norms
originate (Knight, 1994:16). It can be argued that people invent
them, but why, and why is it that they are shaped the way the are? The
case of the Swedish Forest Commons  shows that the commons are both subject to
and victims of the principles of liberal democracy. Thus, the owners of
the commons try to find ways to protect the principles of common property
management that existed long before the advent of modern democracy. For
this purpose the older norms and rules that were related to the commons
are being adjusted and new ones are being “invented”. However, norms are
not inventions. Institutions form the basis of society and so do norms and
rules. Rules determine “who and what are included in decision situations,
how information is structured, what actions can be taken and in what
sequence, and how individual actions will be aggregated into collective
decisions […] all of which exist in a language shared by some community of
individuals rather than as physical parts of some external environment”
(Kiser and Ostrom 1982:179). 
Thus, human beings are governed by norms and rules, and no one
seems to believe in the pure Homo Economicus (Barry, 1970).
It appears that we are caught in a trap. If norms and rules determine how
people act, how can this behaviour, at the same time, constitute the
mechanism by which institutions are made? Giddens (1984) has
suggested a solution to the problem. Every time we use the word
“actors” we also incorporate the idea of rule-governed activities. It is,
by definition, not possible for an individual to be an actor without
possessing both rules and resources (Giddens, 1984:16). Coleman has dealt
superficially with the same problem. Although he has used a different
vocabulary the message is the same. Structures are norm generating
and as actors act they are at the same time involved in the processes
of the creation of structure (Coleman, 1986, 1990). Both Giddens’ and
Coleman’s theories are compatible with the neo-institutional approach
regarding institutions as “the rules of the game” (North, 1991). These
theories explain the principles of how and why institutions are created
and recreated in society. Consequently, commons are better understood if
we succeed in scrutinizing their own system of rules, i.e., the
institutional framework that de facto governs their activity.
To summarize, people are constantly entangled in institutional
arrangements. Institutions facilitate their daily activities the same way
as well-defined institutions ease the lives of industrial enterprises etc.
When persons act within these arrangements, however, they are at the same
time participating in the creation and recreation of these institutional
arrangements (Trift, 1983; Kaufman, Majone and Ostrom, 1986:791-803;
Knight, 1994:21-49, 209-214). This point of departure is relevant for the
analysis of commons. It has been shown by Ostrom, and others (Kiser and
Ostrom 1982; Ostrom, 1990) that it is unproductive to investigate or
understand the principles of organising used by relevant actors within
commons without the use of methodological individualism. Nor is it
possible to neglect the constitution under which they are governed.
Kiser and Ostrom (1982) have elaborated the idea of three worlds of
action. Every institutional arrangement, they argue, is shaped by three
layers of rules: constitutional rules, collective choice rules
and operational rules.  Using
forest commons as our illustration, constitutional rules specify who is
eligible to have access to the forests and share the benefit of its use.
Collective choice rules regulate how decisions are made, for instance in
order to decide the level of harvesting or the technological input.
Operational rules, finally, regulate the daily activities, i.e. the
intensity of harvesting, methods of planting new trees, and so forth.
The three layers of rules form a hierarchy indicating that rules on a
higher level decide the degrees of freedom for those on a lower.
“Constitutional decisions establish institutional arrangements and
their enforcement for collective choice. Collective decisions, in turn,
establish institutional arrangements and their enforcement for individual
action. [...] Constitutional choices precede and constrain collective
choices.” (Kiser and Ostrom, 1982:209-210).
From this perspective a constitution can be defined as a system of
rules specifying the terms and conditions of governance while governance
itself “includes the setting of rules, the application of rules, and the
enforcement and adjudication of rules” (Feeny, 1988:172). It can be
argued, however, that the process of setting of rules in order to make
rules is hard to grasp. The fact is that the feedback mechanisms from the
operational and collective choice levels are constantly operating,
adjusting and influencing the constitution. When people are allowed, or
decide to take the initiative to solve problems in a different way to that
of previous eras, the constitution may change. This is a logical
consequence of regarding institutions as a system of rules in use.  Thus, a methodological consequence of this
assumption is that the constitution has to be demonstrated by empirical
research, rather than considered theoretically. This is the idea of
empirical constitutionalism (Hjern and Hull, 1982).
The purpose of this article is to discuss constitutional and democratic
theory and policy using forest commons as an illustration. The empirical
material is based on a project aimed at elucidating and comparing the
forest commons of Sweden (Carlsson, 1995, 1997, 1999). These commons date
back to medieval times, but the majority were constructed at the end of
the nineteenth century. The commons are still vitally important as
producers of timber for the benefit of their owners and for the gain of
local people. The forest commons have their own constitution, their own
collective choice rules and of course a variety of operational rules.
Sweden has changed, however, since the commons were created. Therefore,
different principles of governance (State and commons) conflict with each
other, and it is an open-ended question what kind of constitution actually
governs the commons. Evidently the Swedish Forest Commons have survived as
efficient producers of timber. Their forestry is largely compatible with
modern timber management. At the same time, however, the commons are
governed by pre-democratic principles codified in laws and
This situation creates a tension between principles of modern
management, principles of liberal democracy and the principles of common
property management. This is the background to the anticipated
difficulties in deciding the essence of constitutional rules governing the
History of the Swedish Forest Commons
From time immemorial the country people of Sweden have regarded certain
lands as their common property. These were mainly forest lands, waters,
and pastures outside the cores of the villages. The so-called “Everyman's
right”, i.e. legal right of access to private land, is a contemporary
reminder of this situation.
In the sixteenth century the Crown (the State) began to lay claim to
these lands. Sweden was sparsely populated and the claims of the Crown
were never fully implemented in most villages. Farmers and settlers still
used many lands as their common property. Moreover, in a forestry act of
1647 some commons were indeed accepted as legitimate by the Crown – mainly
so-called village or parish commons, i.e. common lands between villages
and parishes. For the main part of northern Sweden, however, the situation
of ownership was very unclear. The Sami people, farmers, and settlers
continued to utilize vast areas as their common property.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the Crown started a process
aimed at the creation of rational farms and the stimulation of more
farming, especially in the northern part of the country. This process is
referred to as the great redistribution of land holdings. The motive was
twofold. First, to create rational units in order to fulfil the
demand for timber caused by growing industrialisation, and second, to
create an increased basis for taxation.
This redistribution could not be carried out without deciding what land
belonged to the Crown and what belonged to villages and farmers. Such a
process, called the delimitation of Crown lands, began in the late
sixteenth century and was intensified during the nineteenth century. One
result of this process was the creation of the Swedish Forest Commons.
First farm and village lands were determined and the borders to Crown
lands were decided and fixed accordingly. Then, as a second step, some of
the lands allotted to the farmers were allocated as forest commons.
According to official rhetoric, these commons were created by the
farmers themselves, or at least as the authorities’ response to the
farmers’ demands. Research indicates, however, that a great number of
farmers were hostile to this development. This was particularly so in
areas where forest companies and sawmill companies were powerful
(Liljenäs, 1977). For farmers and settlers the forests had limited value;
it was the cultivation value of the land that provided their livelihood,
not the forests. Therefore, a great number of farmers were willing to sell
their forest land to companies, and many of them did so. Some of the
farmers even sold their rights to harvest timber on the land, and
these rights were allotted in the first step of the delimitation process.
In order to circumvent this, officials tried to persuade farmers to get
together and create commons.
As a result, thirty-three forest commons were established in the County
of Dalarna and in the two northernmost counties of Sweden, Västerbotten
and Norrbotten. The first of these commons was created in 1861 but the
process continued up to the beginning of the twentieth century. Thus, most
of the commons are more than one hundred years old. In terms of
organization, however, they have a medieval pattern borrowed from a type
of commons that already existed when they were created.
The forest commons constitute approximately 2.5% of the productive
forest land in Sweden; they administer a huge forest capital. In total the
commons comprise about 730,000 hectares of forest lands. Some of the units
are comparable to big companies in that they have a large number of staff
and a great assembly of machinery. Yet all of them are still organised
according to the principles under which they were created more than one
hundred years ago.
As indicated above, in the past, arable land had a higher value than
forest land. Therefore, farming was the primary basis of taxation for the
State. When land was allotted to farmers or settlers, their shares in the
commons were decided on the basis of the area of their farms and the
fertility of their land. Officials graded the land, and using a specific
algorithm each farmer’s share in the forest common was decided.
The result today is that each farmer has his own cultivated land and
his own forest land. In addition, each farmer is a shareholder in the
forest common, an area that in some cases exceeds 50,000 hectares.
However, no one can be a shareholder without ownership of a farm or forest
property, which, according to the allotment made one hundred years ago,
has rights to shares in a common. Today the Swedish Forest Commons are
owned by ca. 25,000 shareholders. These shareholders are the owners of ca.
Collectively-owned forest lands in Sweden are regulated by a special
law, the “Act Relating to Collectively-Owned Forest Lands” (Swedish Code
of Statutes, SFS 1952:167). Throughout the existence of the commons the
content of this law has remained basically the same, with only minor
changes.  The law regulates the organisation of the
commons, some of its activities, and the role of State control.
Each common is governed by a chairperson and a board elected by the
shareholders. The law stipulates that a person with higher education in
forestry must be associated with the common. This forest manager manages
the forest according to laws, rules and wishes of the owners. A compulsory
forest management plan gives the framework of the forestry activities. The
forest managers and the assembly of shareholders possess a high degree of
discretion. The Swedish Forest Commons are judged by experts to be well
managed compared to equivalent forest lands, under other forms of
ownership. The “tragedy of the commons” does not apply to the situation in
Sweden. On the contrary only about 70% of the increment is harvested
The profit from the commons is distributed in two main ways: as cash
amounts to the shareholders (proportional to their shares) or as subsidies
(“contributions”) to the shareholders and the district. Subsidies are
often given to support the farmers’ (the shareholders) forestry activities
whereby they are paid per forest plant or according to the size of
ditching areas. In some commons, all economic yields are reinvested in the
district in order to run water purification plants, local sawmills, or to
maintain the roads. The Älvdalen Forest Common, for instance, maintains
more than 1100 kilometres (690 miles) of roads most of which are open to
The constitution of the commons is guaranteed by the State. The system
of shareholding, access to the commons and the principles of collective
choice are decided by law. Thus, no one can gain access to the commons
without possessing a certain kind of property, agricultural land or forest
land with shares in the forest common. However, research has identified at
least twelve different ways of changing or jeopardising the shareholding
system, all of them legal and in practice. (Carlsson, 1995:17-18)
- Property is sold and all the shares are transferred to the new
owner, which can be a company.
- Part of the property is sold. Some shares go along with the property
to the new owner, the rest being kept by the old one.
- Part of the property is sold but shares are kept by the seller.
- A property is inherited and is jointly owned by the estate of the
- A property is inherited and is jointly owned by the inheritors. Each
one of them is a shareholder and some of them can possess parts of parts
- The owner of a property buys another property with shares in the
common. The shares from the two properties can be added.
- The owner of a property with shares in a common buys another
property without such shares. With a formal registration of property the
two properties are amalgamated. If, for instance, the common gives the
shareholders subsidies for planting, there are no legal ways to exclude
the property that has been added.
- Two companies are both shareholders in two different commons. If
they exchange properties they can allocate their shares to one common
each, thus “controlling” one common each.
- A private farmer exchanges land with the State. All shares are kept
by the private shareholder.
- A property with shares in a common reverts to the State; the State
itself is now a shareholder. This can also be the case in the so-called
- A common buys a property with shares in another common. Now this
common is partly owned by a common.
- A common buys a number of properties from its own members. After the
transaction the common is partly owned by itself.
The Swedish Forest Commons came into existence with the express purpose
of contributing to the development of the district where they were
located. For this purpose rules were created in order to secure their
existence and to circumvent the influence of forest companies. However, as
described above, access to the commons is no longer protected. This change
has come about despite the fact that the commons are governed by basically
the same law as one hundred years ago. Why is that? It is partly due to
the extravagant behavior of some land-surveyors who earlier accepted
modifications of properties which were no longer sanctioned; but it is
also due to changes that have their origin within pure jurisprudence. The
amalgamation of lands to form bigger units, for instance, is governed by a
special law, the “Act concerning Registration of Property” (Swedish Code
of Statutes, SFS 1970:988). This law is aimed at goals other than those of
the commons, namely to improve the economic efficiency of private farms,
not of the commons.
This situation implies that the access to the commons is widening. Even
if a person has moved away from the district he or she might want to keep
the shares. One way to obtain this is to own farms jointly – in this way
each individual is a shareholder and consequently has property rights in
the common. Since shareholding also implies rights to hunt and fish in
common lands this process continues. There are cases where farms are
jointly owned by 40-50 individuals.
Another tension is caused by the shareholding of companies. To prevent
forest companies from totally dominating the district, a law was passed in
1903 which prevented companies from buying forest lands from private
owners. This law was in force through much of the last decade.
Nevertheless, many commons are partly owned by companies. In some of them,
companies possess more than 50% of the shares. The average across all the
commons is 18%. If companies buy shareholding farms they also become
shareholders in the commons. This is a threat to the existence of the
The formal rules are constructed to prevent big owners from dominating.
No one is eligible to vote for more than 1/10 or 1/20 of the total shares
represented at the assembly meetings. It is, nevertheless, easy to achieve
dominance by building alliances between shareholders. As research
indicates, however, the commons have dealt with this problem in a very
effective way. Two examples might illustrate this.
Although the companies possess large amounts of shares, they cannot
utilise them to their appropriate value. Many companies lay no claims to
seats in the boards of the commons despite the fact that they could do so
by virtue of the amount of shares they hold. It is also the case that,
even though a company may possess 50% of the total shares, it never
obtains a proportional income from the commons. In Jokkmokk, the second
biggest common in Sweden, 50% of the shares are owned by a forestry
company. However, this company can only utilise about 25% of these shares.
The situation is similar in other commons either because the assembly has
decided to set an upper limit for the subsides to the shareholders, or
because it has found other ways to circumvent the influence of the
companies. Some companies have succeeded in holding a place on the board
of the common, but even then they do not have access to rights and incomes
proportional to their amount of shares. Often, the representatives of the
companies have a very low profile, and although they argue for their
rights they never persist in their opinions.
How can this be explained, when according to the constitution they have
property rights in the common? The answer is simple. Companies are
dependent on good relations with the farmers in the areas in which they
are operating: all farmers and other forest owners are potentially
suppliers of timber, since they all have private forest land from which
they can sell timber. Companies are also generally dependent on their
positive attitudes in order to utilize private lorry roads, etc. The
default of payment represents companies’ costs, i.e. their transaction
costs, of maintaining profitable forestry activities in the district. This
is a good example of how collective choice and operational rules set a
limit to the power of the constitution.
Access to the forest commons is legally regulated by a formal
constitution, i.e. rules about how to make rules are formalized. However,
this constitution is only partly valid. Local decisions and local modes of
action have formed systems of rules that reflect how people really behave.
Some rules are regarded as obsolete: the commons simply do not use them.
The most important law regulating the forest commons (Swedish Code
of Statutes, SFS 1952:167) has not been changed since the 1950s. For
example, the commons are still required to inform and send records to the
County Board regarding harvesting, economy, etc. Some commons are in fact
formally required to deliver their income to the county board and then to
apply for the amount of money they want to distribute or reinvest. Even
though the law stipulates this, it is no longer practised. Other rules are
simply circumvented. For example, some of the commons are not allowed to
endow their individual shareholders with cash amounts but, by renaming a
cash amount a “general subsidy for forestry purposes,” they avoid this
Significant costs (for the collection of information, for example) are
engendered in the fulfilment of demands codified in the Natural
Conservation Act and the National Silvicultural Act.  The forest commons have tackled this
problem by building alliances with the authorities, which are supposed to
enforce the laws. Regularly they purchase service from the authorities for
assessing (cruising) before cutting. They also buy inventories and even
buy the means to control their own shareholders from the forest
authorities. The latter requires an explanation.
About 74% of the commons distribute their residual for communal
purposes, or as direct “subsidies” to individual shareholders for
operations on their own private land. For example, the single farmer can
be subsidised per number of cows he possesses, per hectares of land
drained, for planting, and so forth. Since all shareholders have an
incentive to cheat or at least to over-consume, the system must be
controlled. The commons have developed different methods for this. When it
comes to checking subsidised forestry, the most frequent solution is to
utilise the bureaucracy already built up for the control of State
subsidies. State employed and locally stationed extension rangers are
responsible for all the controls related to forestry, even for the control
of the former numerous State subsidies.  Since the authorities already have control
procedures (for the control of regeneration, etc.) they can easily check
simultaneously whether a single shareholder has actually planted the
number of pine trees he is subsidised for by the common. In practice, no
money is paid until the shareholder can provide a signed form from the
local extension ranger.
The forest commons simply pay the authorities for this service.
Accordingly, they do not have to bear the costs for maintaining their own
control system – to control forestry activities requires a significant
skill in forestry. This “co-management” suits the State authorities well,
because following the present trends to make the public sector more
“profitable” the forest authorities are more commercial and market
oriented.  In this way the commons also
protect themselves from future disputes with the authorities regarding
demands for biodiversity, the preservation of protected biotopes, etc.
Moreover, the commons externalise the costs for keeping up with rules and
regulations related to these matters.
Finally it must be stressed that the State itself has created rules
which conflict with the constitution of the commons. The Act of
Registration of Property is actually eroding the basis of the commons,
namely the farms. This raises the question, “What constitution is really
governing the commons?” In the next section this problem will be
Älvdalen Forest Common is located in the County of Dalarna. The area
and its culture have been of significant importance for the image of
Sweden. In the past, the area was known to contain a strong agricultural
population ; it was with the help of the farmers in this area that
King Gustav (Wasa) united Sweden in the sixteenth century. The common is
basically comprised of 1,600 properties (farms) owned by 2,300
shareholders of whom only half live in the district. The common contains
49,333 hectares of productive forest lands. The Municipality of Älvdalen,
where the common is situated, has 8,264 inhabitants, all of whom are
allowed to utilise the 1,100 km of roads, which the common maintains. In
the last ten years approximately 100 million SEK (14.3 million US $), was
paid as subsidies, from money generated by the forest common. The common
is of significant importance for the local economy.
In order to understand the organisational complexity of the commons, it
is necessary to understand that land ownership was the basis for economic
and political influence in the old Swedish society. The very construction
of the commons is a reflection of this situation. This pre-democratic
heritage creates a tension between different people and principles far
beyond the scope of the forest commons. It must also be remembered that a
significant part of the Swedish population was born before the advent of
the democratic State.
As a result of the process called the great redistribution of land
holdings, described above, so-called parish commons were allotted to the
villages. These commons codified the collective ownership of roads,
waters, gravel pits, etc. Such a parish common also exists in the district
of Älvdalen, and is the legal owner of parts of the main river. Therefore
its shareholders own streams and waterfalls that are exploited for
hydroelectric power stations. This situation creates a complexity, which
is greater than it may seem at the first sight. This is illustrated in
The figure comprises the following central entities: the individual
shareholder (middle circle), single shareholding farms (houses with spruce
trees), the forest common, the parish common (square indicating twenty
villages), and hydroelectric power plants (lower left). Arrows indicate
ownership. The figure is framed by the jurisdiction and principles of the
State and the local municipality. The figure should be interpreted in the
A single person is the legal owner of a property with shares in the
forest common.  In addition, the same person
is also a shareholder in the parish common. This common is divided into
twenty “parcel systems” or, in approximate terms, villages, each with its
own local assembly. Both the forest and the parish common have their own
boards and their own assemblies. Thus, it must be emphasised that we are
talking about the same people forming these three units: the forest
common, the parish common, and the village community.
Figure 1. Relations
and ownership connected to a forest common
The forest common also owns single properties. Consequently, the forest
is a shareholder in the parish common. Moreover, these properties have
shares in the forest common, thus, the common is partly owned by itself.
Since the shares go along with the properties, companies can also hold
shares. As has been emphasised, this arrangement is guaranteed by the
State and it is codified in laws and regulations. At the same time,
however, all actors in the drama are implicated in the principles of the
modern “democratic” municipality, and its political-administrative
In the lower part of the figure we find individuals without any shares
in the described system. These are the other inhabitants of the
municipality as well as the possessors of summer “houses”, etc. These
people, perhaps without being aware of it, have many benefits from the
activities of the commons. One example is maintenance of the roads. The
commons clear them from snow so that people can reach their summer
“houses” in the wintertime. Also tourist-enterprises, anglers, and others
have benefits from the roads and the waters owned by the commons, i.e. the
holders of property.
A recent issue in Älvaden demonstrates the clash between the democracy
of the commons and the liberal democracy exercised by the municipality and
the State. As mentioned above, the parish common, i.e. all shareholders in
the parish and the forest common, is the owner of streams and waterfalls.
Private hydroelectric power stations utilise some of these waters for
which the parish common is compensated economically. Some of the money is
then reinvested in these plants. The shareholders own 30% of one power
plant, 50% of a second and 50% of a third (lower left in Figure 1). The
yield from these investments is divided amongst the twenty villages.
However, the parish common and the forest common  decided to build a power plant of their own.
This led to local criticism, and local politicians intervened. A local
referendum was organised, which the opponents to the power plant won. A
majority of shareholders, however, declared that they were not bound by
local opinion, just as industries are not bound by public opinion when
they plan to make investments. The property owners also reinforced their
case by asserting that the power plant was quite legal, and that no
obstacles had been raised with reference to the Natural Conservation Act.
This was not accepted by the local politicians who responded to the
persistence of the property owners by appointing the area a “temporary
conservation area”. This decision, however, has been appealed by the
property owners. Higher courts of appeal will have to resolve this
paradoxical situation that might be characterised in the following way:
the people opposing the people.
It might be stressed that the behaviour of the shareholders should not
be understood solely as an instance of a “special interests” against the
general will or the individual versus the system. The commons are older
than liberal democracy and moreover, as institutional arrangements, they
fulfil a number of criteria for being regarded as political entities. For
example, they provide and produce collective goods for the local area,
they elect decision boards and they tax themselves (for example, they
distribute a significant part of their surplus for public purposes, such
as roads). Evidently, the commons participate in the “allocation of goods
in the society,” the latter alluding to a standard definition of politics.
A central point in this article is that the role of the commons is
historically and formally protected by the State, yet this self-same State
simultaneously acts as the agent of the principles of liberal democracy,
which supposedly threaten the commons.
The situation in Älvdalen illustrates a paradoxical situation for the
commons. The old, local principles for political decision clash with
modern political democracy. In some respect the people are opposing the
people, i.e. the electorate versus the property rights of the commoners.
At the same time, both the existence of the commons as well as the
democratic system are guaranteed by the power of the formal political
system. The State has created the law regulating the commons, a law it has
refused to change. However, the State also possesses the role of the
ultimate instance of insurance of private property. It is worth noting
that the described situation is not a question of the political system
against farmers. On the contrary, the commons are clearly active in the
process of allocation of values in the society, i.e. the process of
creation of politics. This example illustrates something typical for most
democracies, namely the existence of many actors involved in the process
of the creation of politics. Some of them are old, like the commons, while
others represent a newer political-administrative apparatus.
The municipality is governed by principles of liberal democracy. This
type of democracy is based on the principles of a legitimate struggle
among ideologies and the idea of the majority holding power. Commons,
however, rest on a medieval structure of property rights and these
principles are not understandable within a democratic context. Moreover,
the commons are “undemocratic,” in the sense that “one person one vote” is
not in practice. The Swedish Commission on Collectively-Owned Land (Ds Jo
1984:15) suggested that the forest commons should be converted into
cooperatives, but this misses two of the main points connected to commons.
First, commons normally try to regulate the access to the resource whereas
consumer cooperatives normally want many members; and second, in the
commons influence is based on the size of shares held, while in
cooperatives “one person one vote” is a general rule. Commons are neither
cooperatives, nor interest groups, nor private companies. They represent a
type of property rights and institutional arrangement which fall between
the categories of private and public.
In the previous section, the access problems of the Swedish commons
were discussed. With twelve different ways of changing the shareholder, it
is evident that the commons have difficulties in defending themselves from
changes performed legally by different actors. The system is gradually
undermined by the expansion of the number of shareholders. Some of this
development, such as the influence exercised by the companies, can be
temporarily restrained, while other changes continue with the legal
support of the State.
To some extent, a central problem for the forest commons is to keep
away from the hegemony exercised by the Leviathan (the State). This is not
easy because the Leviathan turns a Janus-face towards the commons. Their
constitution is secured by the State, but at the same time the democratic
State – political assemblies in the municipalities included – precludes
the commons from exercising their property rights. Moreover, some laws
have been created for the benefit of protecting interests other than those
preserving the basis of the commons, the shareholding system.
Finally, how do these empirical findings touch upon the question
concerning the role of the constitution and the theory of three worlds of
action launched by Kiser and Ostrom (1982)? It can be concluded that the
supposed hierarchy predicating three levels of rules is useful when
analysing the commons but one of the main features of the theory must be
further refined. The Swedish Forest Commons illustrate that constitutional
rules do not, as indicated by the theory, restrain operational and
collective choice rules. On the contrary, the constitution of the commons
is changed and softened by changes in lower level rules. In addition, the
principles codified in the constitution of liberal democracy contribute to
the undermining of the property rights of the commons.
The forest commons of Sweden have survived for more than one hundred
years. Experts regard most of them as efficient and competitive timber
producers. This has been achieved within a pre-democratic constitution
that has remained basically unchanged. Meanwhile, the State has become
democratic, governing under a liberal democratic constitution. It has been
shown that the commons operate simultaneously within the realms of both
these jurisdictions. Since actors are the carriers of structural
properties – i.e. rules and resources – as a result of their actions,
institutional arrangements are constantly created and recreated. This
process also includes the changing of the master rules of institutions,
With reference to the general problems of regulating the shareholding
system, the role of the companies, and finally the case of Älvdalen, it is
difficult to conclude under which constitution the commons really operate:
their own, the democratic one or some other. The Leviathan does not follow
a recognised pattern and the very concept of the State is quite ambiguous.
Therefore, the people governing the forest commons must steer the commons
through the unsure waters which will carry them in the twenty-first
century. Whether or not they will succeed will partly depend on whether
they are able to keep away from, or learn to handle, the Leviathan.
Arnold, J. E. M. (1993). Management of Forests Resources as Common
Property. Commonwealth Forestry Review, Vol. 72, No. 3, pp.
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Ethics, Vol. 7, Spring 1985, pp. 49–61.
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Years Later. Environment, Vol. 40, No. 10, December,
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American Political Science Review, 89(3), September, pp.
Fastighetsbildningslagen SFS 1970:988 [Act of Registration of
Propert] Swedish Code of Statutes SFS 1970:988.
Feeny, David, et al, (1990) The Tragedy of the Commons: Twenty-Two
Years Later. Human Ecology, Vol. 18, No 1, pp. 1–17.
_____ (1988) The Demand for and Supply of Institutional
Arrangements. In Ostrom, Vincent; Feeny, David; Picht, H,
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Giddens, Anthony (1984). The Constitution of Society. Outline of the
Theory of Structuration. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Hardin, Garrett (1968). The Tragedy of the Commons. Science,
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Research, No. 10, pp. 105–115.
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Giandomenico; Ostrom, Vincent, eds., Guidance, Control, and Evaluation
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Kiser, Larry; Ostrom, Elinor (1982). The Three Worlds of Action, A
Metatheoretical Synthesis of Institutional Approaches. In Ostrom, Elinor,
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Time. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, Vol. 1,
 The concept of the Leviathan is
borrowed from Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) who discusses the need of a strong
power to impose order in society and thus preventing “the war of all
against all”. A strong state is often believed to fulfill this mission.
Since the early 16th century Sweden has been known for its
 The Swedish Forest Commons can also
be labeled “community managed forests”.
 For an elaboration on institutions,
norms and rules, see Crawford and Ostrom, 1995.
 For an illustration see Tang, 1991,
and Ostrom, 1992.
 The Kiser and Ostrom theory is
incorporated in the Institutional Analysis and Development framework (IAD)
widely used for policy research especially with regard to common-pool
resources (Oakerson, 1992; Ostrom, Gardner and Walker, 1994; E. Ostrom,
1995; Thomson, 1992).
 The statutes that regulated the
commons were not originally assembled in one single and coherent
 SFS 1993:53, Skogsvårdslagen
(The National Silvicultural Act).
 In the beginning of the 1990s
virtually all subsidies were removed by a right-wing government. The
present social democratic government which, after the 1994 election came
back to power, has not changed this policy.
 Note, however, the perverse
situation this creates when the monitor is controlling itself. If a common
buys the service of “planting new trees” on an area, from the authorities,
even this area is submitted for control. However, if the regeneration
fails, or in other ways deviates from rules and regulation, the
authorities can hardly criticize the commons since they did the work
 Note that it does not have to be
a person. Groups of people and corporate actors, such as companies, can
own properties and thereby possess shares.
 Note the difficulties in
separating the units since the activities they perform are nested in each
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