Dr Frank Uekotter

In light of this situation, MaMoGH seeks to use the tools that historians have at their disposal. In tracing the path that monocultures have taken around the world, the project explores recurring patterns in different realms: mindsets, interests, responses, tools, constellations of actors. The trajectory of different monocultures is much more similar than most people recognize.

Many studies have focused on the price of monoculture. This project focuses on the underlying rationale – and on how this requires a new understanding of rationales. In theory, monocultures are unlikely to thrive, but they have thrived in practice, and that calls for a new principle that we propose to name Frank’s Law of Monoculture (FLOM): “A resource arrangement that cannot work in theory can stumble along in practice.”

FLOM is a radicalization of what Lee Fennell called “Ostrom’s Law”, which seeks to capture the essence of economist Elinor Ostrom’s work: “a resource arrangement that works in practice can work in theory.”[1] Ostrom famously received the Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences in 2009 for showing how people can successfully manage local commons in the absence of regulation by central authorities or privatization.

However, Ostrom never formulated the law in her name, and for good reason. She was critical of the excessive modelling in today’s economic sciences and the penchant for dogmas among her male peers. In her seminal book, Governing the Commons, Ostrom presented her findings “as a framework rather than as a model.”[2] 

MaMoGH seeks to push her point further. If monocultures persist in the absence of a satisfactory rationale, maybe that should enter our canon of received scholarly wisdoms: what looks like a global triumph on first glance was actually the greatest stumble on earth. And no, it’s not a coincidence that you cannot cite FLOM without a smile.

[1]  Lee Anne Fennell, "Ostrom’s Law: Property Rights in the Commons," International Journal of the Commons 5 (2011), pp. 9-27; p. 10.

[2]  Elinor Ostrom, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015 [originally published 1990]), p. 214.