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Social-Ecological Systems Meta-Analysis Database: Theory

Cultural heterogeneity and collective action

Variable relationship:

Acheson (2006) argues that groups with strong cultural differences (Cultural Heterogeneity) operating in the context of a common-property regime may increase the costs of self-organization, as they may be unable to rely upon shared norms and cultural beliefs to resolve collective action problems (Collective Action) and manage resources (Commons Condition Trend). As a result, collective action will tend to be lower, resulting in lower levels of performance.

Lam (1998: 68), for example, found that some groups failed to self-organize in order to manage irrigation systems as a result of conflict based upon to ethnic differences.


Scientific Field
Component Type(s)


VariableRoleRole ExplanationValue
Cultural heterogeneityProximate independent variableCultural heterogeneity may increase the costs of self-organization as groups lack shared norms and customs to rapidly reach agreements. High
Collective actionIntermediate outcomeCulturally heterogeneous groups will face difficulties organizing to manage natural resources. Low
Commons condition trendFinal outcomeAs a result of a failure to act collectively the conditions of the commons worsens. Worsened

Related Theories

TheoryRelationshipCharacterizing Variables
Community-based natural resource management (CBNRM)nested
Collective action and the commonscontains
Social diversity and general resiliencecontradictory

Related Studies


Acheson, James M. 2006. Institutional Failure in Resource Management. Annual Review of Anthropology 35 (1): 117-134.


Lam, Wai Fung. 1998. Governing Irrigation Systems in Nepal: Institutions, Infrastructure, and Collective Action. Oakland, CA: ICS Press Institute for Contemporary Studies.