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ASU’s Ostrom receives Nobel Medal from Sweden’s king

December 10, 2009

Arizona State University Research Professor Elinor Ostrom, a political scientist and recipient of the 2009 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, was recognized with other Nobel laureates during a regal ceremony today in Sweden. The medal and diploma tied to the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel were handed to her by the King of Sweden during a majestic event in the Stockholm Concert Hall.

The Nobel Prize, shared with Oliver E. Williamson of the University of California at Berkeley, was announced Oct. 12 by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Ostrom holds research faculty positions at ASU and Indiana University. She is the first woman and a non-economist to win the Nobel economics prize.

Herta Muller, Carol Greider, Jack Szostak, Elinor Ostrom, Oliver Williamson
Nobel Literature laureate Herta Muller, center, of Germany, is surrounded by her fellow laureates after receiving the Nobel Prize in Sweden. To the left of Muller is American medicine laureates Carol Greider and Jack Szostak, and to the right American economics laureates Elinor Ostrom, a research professor at ASU, and Oliver Williamson. (AP Images)

Thursday's ceremony, attended by the Swedish royal family and members of the Nobel Prize awarding institutions, came during a week of scientific and cultural events, culminating in the presentation of the medals and diplomas and an evening banquet.

The events in Stockholm coincided with events held in Oslo, during which U.S. President Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize. Ostrom and other U.S. laureates met with President Obama at the White House last week and took part in discussion with leading science officials.

Ostrom is widely known for her study of institutions – conceptualized as sets of rules – and how they affect the incentives of individuals interacting in repetitive and structured situations. She is the founding director of the Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity, nestled in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

In keeping with the statutes of the Nobel Foundation, each laureate presents a lecture during Nobel Week concerning their discovery or achievement. On Dec. 8, Ostrom presented the lecture "Beyond Markets and States: Polycentric Governance of Complex Economic Systems." The lecture was webcast live to a worldwide audience and is available online at

In the lecture, Ostrom recounted how, through painstaking research, she and her colleagues have demonstrated that there are effective ways to study complexity.

Nobel laureates Elinor Ostrom, and Oliver Williamson, from the University of California at Berkeley 
Nobel laureates Elinor Ostrom, right, an ASU research professor, and Oliver Williamson, from the University of California at Berkeley, share this year’s prize in economics. They were among Nobel Prize winners who participated in a press conference at the Royal Academy of Sciences in Stockholm on Dec. 7. (AP Images)

"Complexity is not the same as chaos," she said.

Ostrom summarized her half-century intellectual journey to understand the mechanisms of cooperation in human societies, including her collaborations with her husband, Vincent Ostrom. The Ostroms founded the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University, where, with others, they developed the institutional analysis and development framework that provided a common structure for research on both urban and environmental polity issues over many decades.

The framework enables researchers to analyze diversely structured markets, hierarchies, common-property regimes and local public economies using a common set of universal components.

Ostrom presented an updated version of the multilevel, nested framework for analyzing outcomes achieved in social-ecological systems in the July 24 issue of the journal Science.

Earlier in the week, Ostrom and her guests, which included Marco Janssen, an ASU assistant professor and the associate director of the Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity, visited the Nobel Museum in the old Stock Exchange building in Stockholm's Old Town.

He watched as Ostrom and the other laureates gave press conferences and were interviewed by international journalists.

"They had two months of practice to get adjusted to their new celebrity status, and professionally dealt with the many photographers and questions of reporters," Janssen wrote in an e-mail to colleagues at ASU.

"A theme that emerged during the press conference was the importance of a good research environment where one can discuss on a day-to-day basis the progress of research – between students and professors and across disciplines," he added.

More information, including photos, are on the Nobel Prize Web site at