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Social-Ecological Systems Meta-Analysis Database: Theory

Roving banditry

Variable relationship:

Olson (1993) and Berkes et al. (2006) describe a phenomenon known as roving banditry, in which a resource user group moves from one resource to the next (Commons User Mobility; Commons Alternatives), depleting each as they go (Roving Bandit; Commons Condition Trend). As a result of their mobility and access to many resources, resource user groups do not experience the results of their depletion on any one resource (Commons Feedback Visibility Use). This is further enabled by large-scale markets in the resource being depleted (Markets; Market Scale; Resource Market Value; Transaction Costs).

Scientific Field
Component Type(s)
Natural Resource Unit, Natural Resource System


VariableRoleRole ExplanationValue
Commons user mobilityUnderlying independent variableHigh mobility creates commons alternatives for commons users.High
Commons alternativesProximate independent variableAs a result of their high mobility, the user group can easily access alternative resources.Easily access other commons
Commons feedback visibility useModerating independent variableAs a result of their high mobility and access to many commons, commons users do not experience the effects of their depletion on any one particular commons.Low
Resource market valueModerating independent variableThe depletion of commons is exacerbated when their value is high on global markets.High
Market scaleModerating independent variableMarkets that are large in scale facilitate the depletion of commons by highly mobile users.Large in scale (e.g. international)
MarketsModerating independent variableThe presence of markets is a critical part of the narrative presented by Berkes et al. (2006)Present
Transaction costsModerating independent variableLow transaction costs facilitate market-based transactions.Low
Roving banditFinal outcomeAs a result of their being able to access multiple commons, the actor group will tend to act as a roving bandit, moving from one resource to the next, degrading each as they go.Yes
Commons condition trendFinal outcomeRoving bandits are likely to systematically deplete natural resources. Additionally, local communities of users are discouraged to invest in conservation.Worsened

Related Theories

TheoryRelationshipCharacterizing Variables
Community-based natural resource management (CBNRM)related
Market-driven resource declinecontains

Related Studies


Olson, Mancur. 1993. “Dictatorship, Democracy, and Development.” The American Political Science Review 87 (3) (September 1): 567.


Berkes, F, T P Hughes, R S Steneck, J A Wilson, D R Bellwood, B Crona, C Folke, et al. 2006. “Globalization, Roving Bandits, and Marine Resources.” Science 311 (5767): 1557–1558. doi:10.1126/science.1122804. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/311/5767/1557.short.