The image fallacy: Rethinking the Tragedy of the Common

Authors: Svein Jentoft

Professor emeritus at the UiT – The Arctic University of Norway and TBTI Co-founder

The paper discusses how images, such as metaphors, allegories, models, etc. determine the way we think about small-scale fisheries, how problems are defined, solutions envisioned, and what we in the next instance make governance decisions. Images can however lead us astray. They may lead us in directions where we do not want to go. Inspired by biologist and anthropologist Gregory Bateson, it is argued that it is important to recognize that images of things are not the things being imaged, just as the name of the thing is not the name being named. They are just the camera, not what is being photographed. Therefore, we should not mix the two, which we often do. Herein is a fallacy that has interested philosophers since Plato and Aristotle.

Garrett Hardin's 'The Tragedy of the Commons' is the root image of current fisheries management systems. It should not uncritically be applied to address the resource crises. His image may still be a useful lens if we appreciative what it is - a way of seeing and talking about resource crises. It is not the only theatrical image available. Other classical theatrical plots may be more relevant. A more playful attitude to images would inspire other governance solutions beneficial to small-scale fisheries. The freedom of the commoners does not have to be the problem Hardin describes. Co-management cannot occur unless small-scale fisheries people have freedom, especially the freedom that Plato illustrated with his Allegory of the Cave. Therefore, rather than talking about the Tragedy, we should talk about the Comedy of the Commons.