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Dr. Surabhi Ranganathan presents a paper which offers a critical account on the origins of the concepts ‘the tragedy of the commons’ and ‘the common heritage of mankind’.

Event details of Global Commons (ACIL Lecture)
Date 21 April 2016
Time 16:00 -17:30


‘The tragedy of the commons’ and ‘the common heritage of mankind’ are concepts that dominate the legal discourse on governing global commons, including spaces beyond national jurisdictions, essential resources, and concerns such as biodiversity conservation and climate change. This paper offers a critical account of their origins. It associates each with a prominent speech-act of the late 1960s: Garrett Hardin introduced the former to a group of scientists in 1968; Arvid Pardo articulated the latter to the First Committee of the UN General Assembly in 1967. The paper shows that that Hardin and Pardo’s interventions responded to pressing issues of the time: decolonization, developed/developing state relations, and pressures of population and resource security. Channelling that period’s fascination with integrative knowledge, they were impressive, if error-laden, feats of synthesis of economic, legal, and scientific data and theories. At the same time they had parochial, illiberal and even imperial dimensions, playing upon and exacerbating the mistrust that then typified international relations. These are all legacies we must contend with today, in our legal engagements with global commons. 

About the speaker

Dr. Surabhi Ranganathan is a University Lecturer in International Law at the Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge. Her research interests include the law of the sea, treaties, global commons, population and resources, energy and non-proliferation, and human rights law.


Faculty of Law, University of Amsterdam

Oudemanhuispoort 4-6, Room A009


The ACIL regularly organizes ACIL Lectures at which external speakers present papers relevant to research carried out at the ACIL. ACIL Lectures are open to all; registration is not required.