Coffee Hour: Constructing a Climate Change Logic

Friday, January 25, 2013 - 3:30pm to 5:00pm
3:30 p.m. Refreshments are offered in the E. Willard Miller seminar room, 319 Walker Building • 4:00 p.m. The lecture begins at 4:00 p.m. in the John J. Cahir Auditorium, 112 Walker Building

Constructing a Climate Change Logic: An Institutional Perspective on the “Tragedy of the Commons”

Shahzad Ansari, Frank Wijen and Barbara Gray 

Forthcoming in Organization Science



Despite increasing interest in transnational fields, transnational commons have received little attention. In contrast to economic models of commons, which argue that commons occur naturally and are prone to collective inaction and tragedy, we introduce a social constructionist account of commons. Specifically, we show that actor-level frame changes can eventually lead to the emergence of an overarching, hybrid ‘commons logic’ at the field level.

These frame shifts enable actors with different logics to reach a working consensus and avoid “tragedies of the commons.” Using a longitudinal analysis of key actors’ logics and frames, we tracked the evolution of the global climate change field over forty years. We bracketed time periods demarcated by key field-configuring events, documented the different frame shifts in each time period, and identified five mechanisms (collective theorizing, issue linkage, active learning, legitimacy seeking, and catalytic amplification) that underpin how and why actors changed their frames at various points in time – enabling them to move towards greater consensus around a transnational commons logic.

In conclusion, the emergence of a commons logic in a transnational field is a non-linear process and involves satisfying three conditions:

1) key actors view their fates as being interconnected with respect to a problem issue;

2) these actors perceive their own behavior as contributing to the problem; and

3) they take collective action to address the problem.

Our findings provide insights for multinational companies, nation-states, non-governmental organizations, and other stakeholders in both conventional and unconventional commons.


About the speaker

gray.barbaraBarbara Gray is a professor and Executive Programs Faculty Fellow in the Smeal College of Business at Penn State.  She also serves as director of the Center for Research in Conflict and Negotiation. She has studied organizational and environmental conflict, framing and sensemaking, collaborative partnerships and institutional processes for over 35 years.  She has published three books and over 90 other articles in journals such as Administrative Science Quarterly, Academy of Management Journal, Academy of Management Review, and Organization Science.  Her research has been funded by NSF, EPA, NIH, and the Hewlett Foundation. She has served as an organizational consultant, mediator and trainer for many private, public and non-governmental organizations worldwide including Greenpeace International, the Dutch Ministry of Environment, Union Carbide, US Steel, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, the MacArthur Foundation, PA DEP, and many others.  She has a B.S. in chemistry from University of Dayton and a Ph.D. in organizational behavior from Case Western Reserve University.