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How fit turns into misfit and back: Institutional Transformations of Pastoral Commons in African Floodplains

Tobias Haller, University of Bern, Institute of Social Anthropology
Gilbert Fokou, NCCR North-South, University of Bern, Switzerland University of Yaounde, Cameroon
Gimbage Mbeyale, Soikoine University, Tanzania
Patrick Meroka, University of Zurich, Switzerland


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We enlarge the notion of institutional fit using theoretical approaches from New Institutionalism, including rational choice and strategic action, political ecology and constructivist approaches. These approaches are combined with ecological approaches (system and evolutionary ecology) focusing on feedback loops and change. We offer results drawn from a comparison of fit and misfit cases of institutional change in pastoral commons in four African floodplain contexts (Zambia, Cameroon, Tanzania (two cases). Cases of precolonial fit and misfit in the postcolonial past, as well as a case of institutional fit in the postcolonial phase, highlight important features, specifically, flexible institutions, leadership, and mutual economic benefit under specific relations of bargaining power of actors. We argue that only by combining otherwise conflicting approaches can we come to understand why institutional fit develops into misfit and back again.

Key words

African floodplains; governance; institutional change; institutional fit; New Institutionalism; pastoral commons

Copyright © 2013 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work 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