Skip to Content | Skip to Search | Skip to Navigation
Indiana University

Michael Cox


Public Affairs

Exam and Minor Fields:

Major: Environmental Policy; Policy Analysis
Minor: Environmental Science

Special Skills and/or Knowledge Base:

Knowledge base: Institutional analysis; geographic information systems; resilience of social-ecological systems; common-pool resource management.
Skills: Proficient with Stata (data analysis), ArcGIS (geographic information systems), and ERDAS IMAGINE (remote sensing) software packages. Fluent in Spanish.

Dissertation Title:

Exploring the dynamics of social-ecological systems: the case of the Taos valley acequias

Dissertation Committee:

  • Elinor Ostrom (chair)
  • J.C. Randolph
  • Tom Evans
  • William Blomquist

Current Dissertation Progress and Expected Defense Date:

Progress: Candidate
Expected Defense Date: January 2010

Dissertation Abstract:

In the past several decades, a research program has grown that examines the conditions under which relatively decentralized communities of users can successfully manage natural resources, or more specifically, common-pool resources. More recently, this research program has begun to intersect with another that examines the sustainability of social-ecological systems over time and in the face of a variety of disturbances.

This dissertation builds on these research programs through a multi-method analysis of community-based irrigation systems in northern New Mexico known as acequias. Longitudinal and spatial statistical analysis, institutional analysis, geographic information systems, and remote sensing are employed in order to understand the acequias as complex social-ecological systems. The central puzzles addressed are: (1) How do communities of users such as the acequias manage complex and geographically extensive natural resources from the bottom up and without centralized control? (2) How does their structure influence their robustness, or vulnerability, to a variety of different types of disturbances they may face? and finally (3) What role do larger forms of government have on these local systems?

The central findings are as follows: (1) the acequias studied have a particular set of attributes, including modular community structure and extensive groundwater resources, that enable them to sustainably manage their systems and respond effectively to periodic droughts; (2) the acequias, like many other traditional systems around the world, are vulnerable to novel disturbances such as economic development and urbanization; (3) the New Mexican government has at times had both positive and negative effects on the acequias.