This essay develops a theory of how institutions can work through the web of social relationships that exist in a place rather than through formal, bureaucratic lines of authority. In contrast to models that characterize institutions as organizational structures, roles, and patterns of exchange, this model depicts institutions as constituted primarily through the active working and reworking of relationships. Rather than adopt the network literature’s focus on the overall pattern of relationships and exchanges carried out between policy actors, the author focuses directly on the nature of the relationships themselves and portrays the institution as the playing out of these relationships, employing Carol Gilligan’s notion of care. The model of care is used to analyze the evolution, unraveling, and restoration of resource management systems on the Turtle Islands in Southeast Asia. The model provides lessons for institution building, especially for community-centered governance.