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Toward a Theory of Compliance in State-Regulated Livelihoods: A Comparative Study of Compliance Motivations in Developed and Developing World Fisheries


  • The research was funded by the Research Council of Norway, the South African National Research Foundation, the University of Oslo, the Norwegian-South African Fisheries Partnership (NORSA), and the South African-Netherlands Partnership for Development (SANPAD). We are grateful to four anonymous reviewers, the journal editors, Jesper Raakjær, and Frode Veggeland for valuable advice on previous versions. Please address correspondence to Stig S. Gezelius, Norwegian Agricultural Economics Research Institute, P.O. Box 8024 Dep, NO-0030 Oslo, Norway; e-mail:


This article addresses the question of how states can best promote citizens' compliance with laws that regulate livelihoods. Based on ethnographic data from fishing communities in three countries—Norway, Canada, and South Africa—the article compares compliance motivations that exist under different socioeconomic and political conditions. The comparisons give rise to a typology of three compliance motivations: deterrence, moral support for the law's content, and the legislator's authority. This article then identifies three governable preconditions—enforcement, empowerment of citizens, and civic identity—that respectively explain these motivations. The article argues that the compliance discourse in a given type of state must be framed such that it includes at least the governable preconditions for compliance that have not been met in that state. Consequently, a functional compliance strategy would vary between different state types. The article thus questions the transferability of the developed world's compliance discourses to the developing world.