Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Urban and Public Affairs

Degree Program

Urban and Public Affairs, PhD

Committee Chair

Kelly, Janet

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Zhang, Sumei

Committee Member

Imbroscio, David

Committee Member

DeCaro, Daniel

Committee Member

Merry, Melissa

Author's Keywords

polycentric governance; middle Rio Grande; environmental governance; social-ecological systems; social-ecological network analysis; urban water commons; collaborative governance


Governing social-ecological systems, such as the urban water commons, is a multi-scale and multi-sector (polycentric) human-environment process. This dissertation interrogates this process by situating itself within the Ecology of Games Framework by Norton Long (and updated by Mark Lubell) and the literature on polycentric governance by the Bloomington School of Political Economy. The dissertation’s three essays 1) offer both theoretical and methodological means to enact polycentric public economies within the ecology of games framework, and 2) explicate the conditions under which interoganizational collaboration is fostered within a polycentric ecology of policy games in governing the Middle Rio Grande urban watershed. First, it deploys a synthesized theoretical construct which puts into conversation three theoretical paradigms to excavate the conceptual pillars to study the polycentricity of urban water governance in the United States. A novel conceptual tool is hereby constructed to help engage the thoughts that polycentricity is not the antithesis of monocentricity but the co-constitution of actors at multiple governing scales and within multiple sectors. Second, the conceptual pillars are reworked into theoretical and methodological models to study the polycentricity of governing the Middle Rio Grande (MRG) urban watershed in New Mexico, USA. Four indices are developed to measure the level of political, market, nonprofit, and overall polycentricity in governing this urban water commons. Employing multiple methods like the social network analysis, social-ecological network analysis (SENA), and regression analysis, the dissertation’s findings suggest that polycentric water governance could primarily be about the politics of power and resource distribution, the reconfigurations of actors’ positionalities as they align themselves and their interests strategically. This, among other findings in the dissertation, points to the need to centralize the politics of power and resource distribution in the study of polycentricity in social-ecological governance. Third and finally, the overall polycentric index is used to model the role of polycentricity in interorganizational collaboration within the Middle Rio Grande (MRG) urban water commons. The exponential random graph models (ERGMs) is used in this analysis. Among other findings, the results show that polycentric governance increases the probability of interorganizational collaboration within the MRG. The implications of the dissertation’s three cohesive essays to theory, methods and policy are discussed in the conclusion chapter of the dissertation. In all, this dissertation concludes that there is still no panacea in governing the (urban water) commons.