Complex socio-ecological systems/Social systems

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Discussants: Thaissa, Ricardo and Simone

Required readings:

Armitage, D. 2008. Governance and the commons in a multi-level world. International Journal of the Commons 2 (1): 7-32. In this paper Armitage based on a review of case studies around the world try to connect three complementary bodies of scholarship with insights for commons governance in a multi-level world: common property theory, resilience thinking and political ecology. He argues that governance is more complex than normative principles. It is important to understand the contexts, stakeholders’ relationships and positions, knowledge valuation and how social problems are constructed. He concludes that to understand the governance dynamic, intersections and hybrid analysis will help to overcome disciplinary boundaries while also linking social and natural scientists, policy makers, managers and communities.

Crane, T. A. 2010. Of Models and Meanings: Cultural Resilience in Social–Ecological Systems. Ecology and Society 15(4): 19. [online] URL: In this paper, Todd Crane addresses the place of culture in social-ecological systems. He argues that much of the literature on resilience of SES implicitly privileges the material, both in terms of ecosystem functions and huma-livelihood outcomes. The paper presents a critique on the use of models in the analysis of social-ecological systems, proposing that the concept of cultural resilience should be understood from the point of view of those peoples which hold the knowledge and the experience about a given ecological system. He contraposes emic and ethic interpretations of resilience, presenting results of qualitative research done with two groups of agropastoralists from Mali, the Marka and the Fulani. Both groups define causes of soil fertility in central Mali in different ways, reflecting their views and adaptive knowledge. He defines cultural resilience as "the ability to maintain livelihoods that satisfy both material and moral (normative) needs in the face of major stresses and shocks; environmental, political, economic, or otherwise." He concludes that determining the resilience of a system depends on the analytical frame through which a social-ecological system is viewed, which is at least partly a function of the social position of the analyzer.

Harrison, N. 2003. Good governance, complexity, institutions and resilience. Online: In this paper Harrison argues that resilience science fail in integrate social and ecological system as one complex system. His critique is centered in the argument in which resilience science arose from the study of ecological system and become a problem applying the same modeling framework for explain societal characteristics. He highlights four main points: Most of the studies of socio-ecological systems are based on analyses of simple ruled communities, not in complex political system; the social systems have people desires and institutions, which not appear in ecological systems; hierarchy represent a fundamental rule in human decisions and is not clearly stated in SES, in social systems the self- organization property is less intense when the system complexify. The last section of the paper is dedicated to introduce the importance of study the role of “Institutions” in socio-ecological systems analyses as the way of understand the integration between social and ecological systems. Ricmel 18:13, 22 March 2011 (UTC)

Additional readings:

Axelrod, Robert. 1997. Promoting Norms. Chapter 3 in Axelrod, Robert, 1997, The Complexity of Cooperation: Agent-based models of competition and collaboration. Princeton University Press.

Berkes, F., J. Colding, and C. Folke. 2000. Rediscovery of Traditional Ecological Knowledge as Adaptive Management. Ecological Applications 10 (5): 1251-1262.

Innes, Judith E. and Devid E. Boher. 1999. Consensus building and complex adaptive systems: A framework for evaluating collaborative planning. APA Journal 65(4): 412-421.

Pretty, J.; B. Adams; F. Berkes; S. F. Athayde; N. Dudley; E. Hunn; L. Maffi; K. Milton; D. Rapport; P. Robbins; E. Sterling; S. Stolton; A. Tsing; E. Vintinner; and S. Pilgrim. The Intersections of Biological Diversity and Cultural Diversity: Towards Integration. Conservation & Society: 7 (2):100-112.

Stringer, Lindsay C, A.J. Dougill, E. Fraser, K. Hubacek, C. Prell and Mark Reed. 2006. Unpacking "Participation" in the adaptive management of social-ecological systems: a critical review. Ecology and Society 11(2): 39.

Summary of Discussion:

We started the session on social systems watching a trailler of the series on the Kalahari family by Anthropologist and Film-maker John Marshall. We had a discussion on how could we define social and ecological resilience for peoples that ara continuouslly and dynamically changing. Is it possible to quantify or measure cultural resilience? Another big question we still have in our minds relates to who should have supremacy in terms of resilience in a situation in which the coexistence between humans and nature is not possible in a sustainable way: humans or environment? We then presented a case-study carried out among the Kaiabi people in the Brazilian Amazon, in which the researcher attempted to measure the robustness of indigenous knolwedge systems using qualitative and quantitative analysis, defending that cultural resilience should be defined according to the view and self-determination of the peoples with whom we work with. Questions were how can we quantify change? It would be having a measure of robustness of the cultural system in one point in time and another one at another point. You need a reference point to do that, it was argued. In the study-case, Athayde (2010) used consensus analysis, measures ok knolwedhe distribution and knowledge transmission among men and women in three areas after 40 years of a displacement situation. She found that innovation, leadership and access to social, technical and financial capital contributed to the perpetuation of weaving knowledge among one of the groups, in detriment of the other two. Therefore, that group is more cultural resilient in comparison to the others. She concluded that the resilience concept, when applied to indigenous peoples, might be an interesting lens to understand continuty and change. Some critiques were that the environmental part was not included (or not presented) for the study, and that there was a confusion between capacity to resist change and amonut of change undergone in the system. People think that social resilience is hard to quantify. We then discussed a bit the paper by Harrison, which presents a critique of the social-ecological approach to study social AND ecological systems. According to him, one framework cannot be applied to study of SES as one system, because they have different properties. He argues that most of the studies on SES were done among "simple" societies, therefore they don't apply to more complex societies, such as those living in urban areas. Many of us disagree with him that those simple societies are not that simple and cannot be put under a common black box. Furthermore, there are general principles of societies that can be applied to what he called "simple"as well as more complex societies such as urban ones.