Professor of Political Science and Research Professor of Environmental Policy in the Nicholas School, studies political institutions, particularly electoral arrangements and property rights, and is interested in applying theories of cooperation to the management of common-pool goods like environmental resources. One stream of her work concerns policymaking and elections in Japan, and her other work on the commons has examined traditional arrangements used in Japan to foster cooperation in limiting use to sustainable levels. Beyond Japan, she is also interested in diagnosing not just how but also why people use joint arrangements to manage collective goods, and in extracting lessons from the existing repertoire of experience with environmental cooperation and common-property regimes to inform efforts to address common-pool resource problems in contemporary settings, on more complex collective goods, and at larger scales. She was a member of the National Academy of Sciences Panel on Common Property from 1982 to 1987 where she helped to organized the Annapolis conference on Common Property (1985) and to build the initial Common Property network. Along with Elinor Ostrom, Fikret Berkes, David Feeny, and others, McKean co-founded the International Association for the Study of Common Property in 1989. She organized the first global meeting of the IASCP at Duke in 1990 as well as the recent global conference of IASC held on the Mount Fuji commons in Japan in 2013. She also served as fifth president of the IASCP in 1995-1996. She is currently working on three book-length manuscripts: Cooperation on the Japanese Commons, The Common Good in Uncommonly Bad Times: Japan's Experience with Collective Choice under Scarcity, and Property Rights for a Small Planet. She is also involved with European and Japanese colleagues in several collaborative projects: Revivals of the Commons (on contemporary applications of common-property regimes to new environmental issues in Japan), a special issue of the International Journal of the Commons on legal innovations that bring traditional commons into contemporary uses in post industrial economies, and a long-term project using the very rich archival material available on legal disputes over rights on the commons in Japan to analyze sources of legal success and of the development of rights-consciousness in citizens.


  • Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley (1974)