Enforcement, Signaling, and Deliberation: Rock Climbers Attempting to Maintain Rules and Norms

2019, International Journal of the Commons

Full title: “Institutional Enforcement, Signaling, and Deliberation: Rock Climbers Attempting to Maintain Rules and Norms through Social Sanctioning"

Link to article (free access)


Scholars have long recognized the importance of social sanctions in enforcing rules and norms. This paper draws attention to additional functions that social sanctioning serves in institutional maintenance - signaling and deliberation - and compares how these functions differ across cases of externally imposed rules and community-derived norms. The examination is conducted through a comparative case analysis of self-governance in rock climbing communities. In one case, a climber’s infraction of land management regulations instituted to protect nesting raptors not only violates climbing institutions, but may pose a threat to access to a popular climbing area. In a second case, a climber’s installation of climbing bolts in an area of historical climbing significance violates long-held community norms, without breaching formal rules. In both cases, the transgressors experience social sanctions online (i.e. on the internet), and face off-line consequences. Study findings suggest that social sanctions serve multiple functions in the maintenance of rock climbing institutions, and that these functions vary depending on the type of the institution that is violated. The article closes with the implications of study findings for the broader understanding of community institutions and institutional maintenance.


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