Property rights regimes and natural resources: A conceptual analysis revisited

Thomas Sikor, Jun He, Guillaume Lestrelin

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More than two decades ago, Schlager and Ostrom (1992) developed ‘a conceptual schema for arraying property-rights regimes that distinguishes among diverse bundles of rights’. The conceptual framework has profoundly influenced research on natural resource governance, common property, and community resource management. However, currently natural resource governance has changed dramatically, challenging the applicability of the conceptual schema. There are now many more social actors involved in resource management than the local communities at the focus of original analysis. Additionally, resource management increasingly provides access to various kinds of benefits from outside the immediate context, including indirect benefits such as payments for environmental services and results-based payments for REDD+. These changes demand addition of new property rights to the original framework. Those changes of governance process demand addition of property right to original framework. This paper updates the conceptual schema in reaction to changes in natural resource governance, proposing three specific modifications on the focus of use rights, control rights and authoritative rights to come up with a framework that distinguishes eight types of property rights. We apply the framework to three purposefully selected governance interventions in China and Laos that include the provision of indirect benefits in addition to the direct benefits derived by local people from natural resources. The empirical application shows how contemporary governance changes may not lead to local people’s outright dispossession, since they continue to possess direct use rights to natural resources. However, local people may be excluded from control and authoritative rights, which are exercised exclusively by state agencies and international actors. The latter make available indirect benefits to local people, which may or may not translate into use rights in the sense of policy-based entitlements. The empirical insights suggest the possibility of a wider trend of ‘compensated exclusions’ in natural resource governance.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)337–349
Number of pages13
JournalWorld Development
Early online date26 Jan 2017
Publication statusPublished - May 2017


  • property rights
  • governance
  • natural resource
  • compensated exclusion
  • forests
  • China
  • Laos

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