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First woman Nobel economics laureate 'surprised', 'humbled'

world Updated: Oct 12, 2009 19:31 IST

Elinor Ostrom, the first woman to win the Nobel Economics Prize since it was first awarded 40 years ago, said she was humbled and surprised at the honour on Monday.

"My first reaction was great, great surprise and appreciation... To be chosen for this prize is a great honour and I am still a bit in shock," she told the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences' press conference when reached by telephone.

Ostrom, who considers herself a political economist, said she had not realised she was the first woman to be awarded a Nobel in economics.

She shared the prize with fellow American Oliver Williamson and was given the Nobel "for her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons," or commonly-managed resources, the committee said on Monday.

The laureate quickly launched into explanations of her research, giving reporters examples on the issues of managing resources and trust.

She explained that her work focused on developing a framework for understanding social-ecological systems which included resources and human interactions, "which given global warming, are particularly important today."

In her research, Ostrom conducted numerous studies of user-managed fish stocks, pastures, woods, lakes and groundwater basins, proving them better managed than what other theorists had suggested about common property.

Ostrom's research also looks at behavioural theory and "the context of the roles that people have developed and designed for themselves" and the kind of community which evolves around these roles, she said.

Such roles are crucial to the notion of trust in economics, and "when people have trust that others are going to reciprocate, including their officials, they will be highly cooperative," she explained.

But she said that when there is no trust, "no matter how much force is threatened, people will not cooperate unless immediately facing a gun."

In thanking the committee, Ostrom said she was "humbled" by the award and that it would take her a while to "really recognise what has happened."