This paper explores a possible theoretical framework for studying issues in common-pool resource that emerge from tensions between place-specific notions of common rights and state regulation of access to commons. While the former is historically informed by “traditional ecological knowledge,” the latter is based on abstract international environmental law and on capitalist-oriented development goals. This paper analyzes the regulation of whale watching in the archipelago of the Azores, Portugal, to show how variously situated social actors conceptualized the rights of access to marine commons. It also reveals how these distinct views came into conflict, not only in the context of finding ways to regulate whale watching but also through actual practices of this commercial activity. The Azorean example suggests that a successful process of communication among these different views can lead to ecological learning and improved ecological wisdom of those involved, and, thus, a more sustainable use of marine commons.

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