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Contracts or Scripts? A Critical Review of the Application of Institutional Theories to the Study of Environmental Change

Samy Hotimsky, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia
Richard Cobb, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia
Alan Bond, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia

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Abstract

The impact of new institutionalism on the study of human environment interactions has been meaningful. Institutional perspectives have further shaped and modified the field problems of common pool resources, environmental hazards, and risk and environmental management. Given the relative potential of institutional theories to increase the comprehension of the various dimensions of human–environmental interactions, it has become increasingly important to attempt to consolidate different interpretations of what institutions are, and how they mediate and constrain possibilities for more successful environmental outcomes. This article focuses primarily on contending ontological perspectives on institutions and institutional change. It argues that what should guide the application of institutional theories in practical research regarding environmental change is the ontological dimension, and that the focus of research should be on uncovering the underlying dynamics of institutional change. In doing so, it calls for a methodological pluralism in the investigation of the role institutions play in driving/managing for environmental change.

Key words

Adaptation; environmental change; institutions; ontology
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087