Collective action dilemmas of sustainable natural resource management: A case study on land marketization in rural China

Lin Zhou, Yinuo Zhou, Walter Timo de Vries, Zhihang Liu, Hanyue Sun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Sustainable natural resource management encompasses not only technical aspects but also the capacity and inclination for collective action. Using semi-structured interview data and social network analysis, this paper assesses the characteristics of three elements of social capital (norms, communication networks, and trustworthiness) and their effects on collective action, in the context of the marketization of rural collectively-owned operating construction land (COCL) in Dingluan Town, Henan Province, China. The results reveal that villagers possess a superficial understanding of compensation schemes at the normative-level analysis, impeding effective collective decision-making. Communication network analysis exposes strong ties that may impede collective action if only information flows within villages. In contrast, weak ties serve as vital bridges promoting marketization. Additionally, we observe that groups with strong ties rely more on key actors for accurate calls to action, underscoring the importance of trustworthiness. More importantly, the results point to three dilemmas regarding land marketization in rural China: cognitive bias of norms, challenges in expressing stakeholders’ demands, and crisis of trust among key actors. We further highlight trust as a potent means of breakthrough to address these dilemmas rooted in normative, communicative, and trust-related aspects that present formidable challenges to collective action. These results provide important insights for trust-building strategies for researchers and policy promoters to solve the collective action dilemma in environmental management.

Original languageEnglish
Article number140872
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2024


  • Collective action dilemma
  • Land marketization
  • Social capital
  • Sustainable environmental management
  • Trust


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