Tag Archives: social-ecological systems

Law for Social-Ecological Resilience – Live Stream!

The international conference “Law for Social-Ecological Resilience” is just about to start in Stockholm. For those unable to attend, all plenary sessions will be live streamed here.  The plenaries include the following list of great speakers:

Carl Folke, Stockholm University: “What on Earth is Resilience?”

Jonas Ebbesson, Stockholm University: “What in Law is Resilience?”

Frank Biermann, VU University, Amsterdam: “Agency and Accountability in Earth System Governance: Legal implications”

Ellen Hey, Erasmus University, Rotterdam: “Social-Ecological Resilience and International Law: Whose Resilience?”

Barbara Cosens, University of Idaho: “Resilience and Administrative Law in Transboundary River Governance”

Jutta Brunnee, University of Toronto: “International Law and Socio-Ecological Resilience: An Interactional Perspective.”

Gerd Winter, University of Bremen: “Cap and Trade” and Other Means of Ensuring Societal Resilience in Times of Resource Scarcity

Bonnie McCay, Rutgers University, New Jersey:”The Littoral and the Liminal: Challenges to the Use of Property Rights Approaches to Resilience of Coastal and Marine Systems”

and more!

New Initiative – ASU Consortium for Biosocial Complex Systems

by Michael Schoon, Arizona State University
On April 21st, Arizona State University officially launched a new initiative – the Consortium for Biosocial Complex Systems.  The consortium attempts to advance a new area of science by approaching research and education through a complex systems perspective.  The primary work of the Consortium emerges from three member centers:  the Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity, the Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity, and the Mathematical, Computational, and Modeling Sciences Center.
The Consortium and ASU’s Center for Global Health are the first tangible outputs of ASU’s Complex Adaptive Systems Initiative.  The Complex Adaptive Systems Initiative (CASI) is a collaborative effort to leverage trans-disciplinary relationships to address complex global challenges in health, sustainability, security and education by creation of entirely new technologies and novel solutions. This requires integration of diverse research disciplines across the University and building an extended network of global collaborations.
Over the coming months, CASI will help form additional trans-disciplinary research groups to better bridge across disciplinary barriers within ASU.  Beyond campus, the Initiative is creating linkages between institutional research partners around the globe, including CSIRO for Sustainable Ecosystems, Indiana University’s Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and the University of Barcelona Adaptive Behavior and Interaction Group, among others.  For a full listing of partner organizations, click here.

Global Governance and Planetary Boundaries

by Victor Galaz (twitter.com/vgalaz)

The Stockholm Resilience Centre hosted a small scientific meeting in mid-March entitled “Planetary Boundaries, Multiple Global Crises, and Global Governance”. This meeting was the first governance follow up of two recent publications dealing with the possibilities of global scale, rapid and interacting global environmental crises previously featured in this blog [here and here].

A number of internationally renowned scholars contributed to this meeting, and you can meet many of them in these short videos produced by the Stockholm Resilience Centre. Meet Frank Biermann (IVM, Netherlands) as he explores the challenges posed to global environmental governance; Derk Loorbach (DRIFT, Erasmus University, Netherlands) as he elaborates on the role of transition management for understanding resilience; Karin Bäckstrand (Lund University, Sweden) as she discusses the link between democracy and global environmental governance; and Jeremy Allouche (IDS, UK) as he explores the link between environmental scarcity and conflict.

Derk Loorbach

Jeremy Allouche

Karin Bäckstrand

Frank Biermann (external link)

Law for Social-Ecological Resilience, 17-19 November 2010

Invitation: Law for Social-Ecological Resilience, 17-19 November 2010

You are invited to the Law for Social-Ecological Resilience Conference: an international and transdisciplinary event at Stockholm University, 17-19 November 2010.

Law for Social-Ecological Resilience will highlight the impact of law on environmental governance, ecosystem management and sustainability policies – ranging from local to global contexts. Legal structures, principles and processes, as well as core concepts of the rule of law, impinge on the capacity of societies to manage ecosystems, withstand environmental degradation as well as economic shocks, and rebuild and renew itself afterwards.

Law for Social-Ecological Resilience will assess, analyse and debate the impact of law in these respects – and thus further the understanding of the role of law and improve the prospects for environmental governance and sustainable development.

Law for Social-Ecological Resilience is co-arranged by the Stockholm Environmental Law and Policy Centre, at the Faculty of Law, and the Stockholm Resilience Centre, both at Stockholm University.

For further information and updates about the Conference, go to the Conference web-site at: www.juridicum.su.se/resilience

Governance, memory and transformation

by Stephan Barthel

Thinkers that study social relations agree that socially constructed images of the world – negotiated versions and meanings of the past – to a large degree determine social practice . For instance, Bo Rothstein (2005) on his work on social capital shows with game theory that ‘the history of play’ determines trust and future strategies. This is what social memory is about. Can these thinkers teach us anything about governance of desirable trajectories of social-ecological systems, or even about transitions from undesirable ones?
Social-ecological memory is the means by which social practice about how to manage a local ecosystem is retained and stored among a group people, and modified and transmitted through time (Barthel et al 2010). Reification processes co-produces things that persist, which stores memory. Participation in ecosystem management is a mean for capturing and transmitting memory and identity. The one cannot continue without the other. Over time their combination in “community of practice” (Wenger 1998) becomes invested in social-ecological memory that tends to guide behavior (Barthel et al 2010).
In allotment gardens memory is captured and transmitted for instance via mentor programs, collaboration in management of commons and exchange of seeds, and it is stored in property rights, norms, proverbs and physical things such as artifacts, fruit trees, seeds, chalets and vegetable plots which all tend to outlive the repertoires of participation that first shaped them. Complicated? Well in short, social-ecological memory lives within relations, and it may be a conservative force of trajectories since it temporally carries social practice that co-evolves with local ecosystems.
How about transitions from undesirable trajectories? Rothstein argues (2005) that traps of low social capital are essentially impossible to get out since the history of play ‘sticks’ in the social memory of the players. It seems then that when working for transformation of a trap of mistrust, or an undesirable social-ecological trajectory, memory must be addressed. The logic goes; transformation of memory creates transformation of social practice. So if allotment gardens were on an unsustainable trajectory the work for transformation could address mentor programs, the way collaboration is performed and proverbs, as well as property rights regimes, artifacts, and physical objects. Maybe this kind of memory-practice thinking could be of interest when designing theories about adaptive governance for transformation.
Starting to sound scary? You all are aware of the creation and modification of social memory that has been done before in history (Nazi Germany, Soviet, Apartheid South Africa etc), so even if our goal is restricted to support resilient local social-ecological systems that generate ecosystem services, such thinking will require deep ethical reflections and analysis.

Capturing the Complexity of the Commons

International Association for the Study of the Commons North American Regional Meeting

Hosted by the Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity and the Consortium for Biosocial Complex Systems

September 30 – October 2, 2010, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona (USA)

Capturing the Complexity of the Commons

The North American regional meeting of the IASC will have as its theme “capturing the complexity of the commons” reflecting the increasing efforts to understand commons over time at multiple levels of scale. The goal is to foster more discussion and collaboration especially among North American researchers working on commons from an interdisciplinary point of view. We invite scholars from the natural and social sciences as well as humanities and arts.

The conference is interdisciplinary and open to any individual interested in common-pool resources and common property issues. It is aimed at encouraging the discussion on the conference topics among researchers and practitioners living in North American or elsewhere. This should result in a stronger research network and an enhanced exchange of experiences primarily among North American researchers and students working on the Commons and also with scholars elsewhere.

The conference is organized in 3 subthemes:

This theme address the increasing focus of commons research on cases with historical depth, multiple resources and resource uses, and multiple levels of social and ecological processes. Topics included in this subtheme are the resilience of common pool resources, institutional learning and adaptation, and transboundary commons and conflicts.

New Commons
This theme includes commons that can be grouped in four broad classes: the urban commons, the virtual commons, the environmental services and public health. Research on those topics using conceptual tools designed for the study of commons has strongly increased in the last few years. Moreover, many of those commons are, at present, crucial for the welfare of human beings as a whole.

Multiple Methods to Study the Commons
This theme addresses the methodological contributions to study the commons including ethnographic case studies, collaborative field studies, experiments, formal modeling and participatory processes. Besides contributions of the individual methodologies we recognize the benefits of using multiple methods to address the same research questions.

We welcome proposals for panels, workshops, and individual papers relating to the three subthemes of the conference:

Panels and Workshops. Submit a proposal to organize a 1.5 hour concurrent panel session (3 to 4 speakers and session chair) or workshop (a practically-oriented session with 2 or 3 speakers, session facilitator, and sufficient time for audience questions). Proposals include an abstract of the goal and topic of the session (maximum of 350 words), include names and affiliations of the organizer and individual presenters, and provide abstracts for the individual papers (maximum 250 words).
Proposals for panels and workshops are due April 1, 2010.

Individual Papers. Submit an abstract to give a 20-minute oral presentation. Abstracts should be a maximum of 250 words. Include the name, title and affiliation of each author. Abstracts will be peer reviewed and are due April 1, 2010. Confirmation of acceptance of the abstract will be sent by May 1, 2010Final papers are due September 1, 2010 (details will be sent to authors upon abstract acceptance).

Conference Proceedings. All abstracts and submitted papers will be made available online (digital library of the commons). All conference paper submissions will be peer reviewed and a selection of the papers will be considered for a special issue of the International Journal of the Commons.

Submission of Abstracts . All abstracts must be submitted electronically in Word, text, or pdf format. Abstracts should be submitted via the conference website.

Are There Limits to Adaptive Governance?

by Emily Boyd

From a development perspective adaptive governance (AG) raises questions about how do you measure fair, efficient and effective processes, who are the winners and losers? The concept of ‘good’ governance in the context of development is about procedural justice and fairness and all that entails to try to stamp out inequalities. It is normative and connected to human rights. Many rely on concepts of ‘good’ governance to set transparent goals in decision-making processes.

For instance, the Nobel Peace Prize Winner Wangari Maathai stated recently that without good governance, Africa was unlikely to overcome its numerous poverty challenges. In the case of SES or coupled climate and development, we are still searching for ways to think about what governance means for understanding coupled, complex, interconnected climate change, ecosystem and development challenges across multiple actors in cities, forests, coastal areas etc. The question that haunts us is whether AG is a ‘utopia’ where getting the principles right leads to a system of management that hides inequalities across scales?

AG emerged from understanding about adaptive management and co-management in natural resource management. AG is in a sense the scaled up version of co-management across hierarchies of decision-making and knowledge. Co-management is by no means a panacea and encounters broad challenges of who is accountable and for what? (e.g. see the work of Plummer and Armitage). Early research from the development community tried to break out of the hegemonies that surround natural resource management and sought to increase understanding for, and interest in, the continual evolution of local knowledge, through farmers own experimentation with crops, soils, and irrigation and with the dynamics of social networks for spreading knowledge as well as risks (for example the work of Chambers, Scoones & Thompson, Leach) (www.ids.ac.uk).

What came out of that work was a revisionist agenda that was much more nuanced about the politics of knowledge. Yet, what was missing from that early work was the resilience dimensions of ecological and climatic change – the stuff that we know now, e.g. the importance of flips, thresholds, feedbacks etc. – and also how knowledge relates to resilience. This is perhaps where adaptive governance can lend a hand specifically to ask questions about how to govern complex climate – development interactions given the imperfections of the ‘real’ world and the inequalities of uneven development.

Let us think about adaptive governance simply as a heuristic to help to pose new critical questions and tease out understandings about features of change, institutional flexibility, scale, and learning in social and ecological systems. Adaptive governance opens up arenas for asking questions about up scaling collective action e.g. the work of Per Olsson and others on the governance of the Great Barrier Reef. Another example is in examining the importance in ecological forecasting (Clark et al 2003). An emerging imperative is to incorporate feedback mechanisms into ecological forecasts, which are essential to predicting ‘potential’ tipping points. How best to manage tipping points also requires consideration of the social dynamics and ways to collectively understand and think about this. The co-production of knowledge looks to be an important part of this.

Adaptive governance also opens up new ways to conceptualize how actors and organizations respond and reorganize following shocks in coupled systems, e.g. the 2005 dieback in Amazonia and 2005 floods in Mumbai and helps us to ask questions about how networks and learning platforms (e.g. in planning for a 2 degree world) connect across different levels of organization in managing for resilience.

Thus to conclude, yes there are limits to adaptive governance. We must avoid panaceas. However it is early days, and the concept has opened up avenues to think critically and engage across disciplines. It is now from further theoretical and empirical work we will get a better grasp of the utility and limits of AG. In the meantime, let us not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Further reading

Clark, et al (2003). “Ecological Forecasts: An Emerging Imperative”, Science 293, 657.

Plummer, R. and DR. Armitage (2007). “Charting the new territory of adaptive co-management: a Delphi study”, Ecology and Society 12(2):10 [online] URL:http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol12/iss2/art10/

Derek, A., Melissa, M. and R. Plummer (2008).” Adaptive co-management and the paradox of learning”, Global Environmental Change Vol.18 (1):86-98.

Special Issue: The Politics of Resilience

Does “resilience thinking” offer novel insights for social scientists such as political scientists, international relation scholars, lawyers and policy analysis experts? Or is it just a another ecological concept with little or no relevance for the social sciences? The topic is one of the most contested ones, as indicated by the popularity of a previous review of Hornborg’s critique of resilience theory posted a while ago. Here is another take on the issue.

In February 2009, we gathered a prominent group of social scientists in Stockholm, for a workshop to elaborate the implications of resilience theory for political science, law, and international relations. We also wanted to discuss its possible implications for critical global challenges such as environmental migration. Where lies the concepts strengths and weaknesses? Is it at all fruitful to talk about “social resilience”? And how do we get a better grip of the politics of learning, flexibility and multilevel governance in complex systems?

The result of these discussions are now available online in the special issue “Governance, Complexity and Resilience” for the journal Global Environmental Change. While the volume as a whole is still in production, a few of the articles are available online already. Just to give you a preview of its contents:

Dr. Koko Warner from the Institute for Environment and Human Security, examines the range of multiscale drivers that trigger environmentally induced migration, and elaborates a range of political and institutional implications. In her contribution, resilience thinking contributes to a wider understanding of the multilevel governance challenges facing policy-makers and a suite of organizations, in trying to deal with underlying social-ecological dynamics. The article is available here.

Prof. Jonas Ebbesson, law scholar from Stockholm University associated to the Stockholm Resilience Centre, elaborates the role of law in steering social-ecological systems. One interesting argument in the paper, is that while law often is viewed as static, and too rigid to rapidly changing circumstances, some aspects of legal thinking and the implementation of law also support aspects of resilience, such as openness and broad participation to cope with complexities and common risk. The article is available here.

Prof. Melissa Leach and colleagues from the STEPS Centre (UK), make a very timely contribution by looking closer at the politics of global epidemic preparedness and response. In their article, Leach and colleagues argue that resilience is inherently a matter of social framing by actors, especially when problems (such as emerging infectious disease) are driven by complex underlying social-ecological factors in contested social settings. The article is available here.

You can also find contributions from Prof. Susan Owens on the politics of learning [here], as well as from Prof. Oran Young on the dynamics and resilience of international regimes [here].

In all, we hope that this volume is able to push the boundaries of resilience theory and thinking into new empirical and theoretical terrain. We look forward to hear what you think.

VIII. You say “transition”, I say “transformation”…

The need to support transitions, or transformations, towards sustainability has become one of the hottest topics amongst sustainability scientists the last years. A range of theoretical approaches deal with different aspects of transformational system change, including scholars of “transition management” and “resilience theory”. These communities have worked separately for decades, but seem too be converging. But, what is the difference between “transitions” and “transformations”? Really?

Listen to Dr. Derk Loorbach from the Dutch Research Institute for Transitions (Drift, Erasmus University Rotterdam), as he explores what he sees as the main similarities and differences between the two schools. Listen also to Dr. Per Olsson at the Stockholm Resilience Centre (Stockholm University), as he responds to Derk’s observations.

Interview with Dr Derk Loorbach [external link]. What is “transition management”, and how is that different from “transformations”? And which policy interventions support transitions?

Interview with Per Olsson by Eric Paglia at Think Globally Radio. What is a “transformation” in a social-ecological system? How is it different from “transition management” approaches? And how can transformations be supported?

Elinor Ostrom on Adaptiveness – A Quick Reader

Congratulations to Elinor Ostrom at Indiana University and Arizona State University to a Nobel Prize! These are indeed fantastic news.

While the award she received  praised her decades long contribution to how social actors build institutions to overcome the “Tragedy of the Commons”, Prof. Ostrom has also made some very important contributions to ongoing discussions on the features of adaptiveness in the face of change and surprise in complex social-ecological systems. Two key publications in my view, are those co-authored with Bobbi Low and colleagues (2003), and later work on the dangers of panaceas in natural resources management (2007).

Elinor Ostrom

In the book chapter “Redundancy and Diversity in Governing and Managing Common-Pool Resources” (in the book Navigating Social-Ecological Systems, Building Resilience for Complexity and Change, Cambridge University Press, 2003), Ostrom and colleagues elaborate the need to understand why redundant and diversity in institutions play a key role in coping with change and surprise. While redundancy and diversity often are viewed as inefficient and lead to serious coordination failures, Ostrom argues that they also provide “back-up” options when governance systems fail to respond. They also allow for prompt re-organization after a shock similar as that observed for ecological systems.

Her 2007 article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), “Going Beyond Panaceas” with Arizona colleagues Marty Anderies and Marco Janssen, is a great summary of the dangers of applying top-down blue-prints in natural resource management. While this certainly has been said before, Elinor Ostrom and colleagues are the only ones able to combine the message with both solid empirical evidence (both from the field and experiments) with a robust theoretical understanding (ranging from game theory  to agent-based modeling, and more general frameworks).

What’s in the future for this brilliant researcher? Well, it seems like a lot of energy is being invested in elaborating the robustness of institutions further through the application of the “diagnostic approach”, also presented in PNAS in 2007. Some really interesting work also seem to emerge in collaboration with Marco Janssen (ASU) on institutional innovation in dynamic spatial commons. You can watch a short presentation with Lin Ostrom about overcoming the Tragedy of the Commons here.