Dark matters: Exploitation as cooperation

Partha Dasgupta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The empirical literature on human cooperation contains studies of communitarian institutions that govern the provision of public goods and management of common property resources in poor countries. Scholars studying those institutions have frequently used the Prisoners' Dilemma game as their theoretical tool-kit. But neither the provision of local public goods nor the management of local common property resources involves the Prisoners' Dilemma. That has implications for our reading of communitarian institutions. By applying a fundamental result in the theory of repeated games to a model of local common property resources, it is shown that communitarian institutions can harbour exploitation of fellow members, something that would not be possible in societies where cooperation amounts to overcoming the Prisoners' Dilemma. The conclusion we should draw is that exploitation can masquerade as cooperation. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)180-187
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Publication statusPublished - 21 Apr 2012


  • Common property resources
  • Long-term relationships
  • Min-max strategy
  • Nash equilibrium
  • Prisoners' Dilemma


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