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Ethnic Forces in Collective Action: Diversity, Dominance, and Irrigation in Tamil Nadu

Timothy M Waring, University of Maine, School of Economics


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Mounting evidence suggests that ethnic interactions damage cooperation in the provision of public goods, yet very few studies of collective action in common pool resource management have found strong evidence for the effects of ethnic diversity. Research on both public goods and common pool resource management that does find negative ethnic effects on cooperation tend to ignore the importance of interethnic relationships, particularly ethnic inequality, stratification, or dominance. This study presents data from agricultural villages in Tamil Naduís Palani Hills to test the importance of a range of ethnic effects using caste interactions in a traditional irrigation system. I provide corroborating evidence of a negative cooperative effect of ethnic diversity, but also demonstrate that factors of ethnic dominance such as hierarchical stratification and demographic dominance strongly determine outcomes in collective irrigation management. I argue that the most important measure of equity, irrigation access, is socially, technologically, and institutionally embedded, and demonstrate that the distribution of irrigation channels is explained by measures of inequality, such as wealth inequality, Dalit status, and demographic dominance.

Key words

cooperation; irrigation; ethnic diversity; ethnic dominance; India

Copyright © 2011 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087