Ben Cousins founded and directed PLAAS from its inception in 1995 until September 2009 and is currently the DST/NRF Chair. PLAAS was founded in 1995 as a specialist unit in the School of Government, Economic and Management Sciences Faculty at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), Cape Town.
In 2013 Cousins received an inaugural Elinor Ostrom Award, in the senior scholars category, for his contribution to scholarship on the commons. His work focuses on three key issues: the politics and economics of land and agrarian reform (in particular on the role of small-scale agricultural producers within such reforms); legal recognition or formalisation of customary land rights; and the changing nature of rural social organisation and systems. The scope of his research extends beyond South Africa to Africa more broadly, with a particular focus on southern Africa.