Talk:Complex socio-ecological systems/Conference discussion

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This week we have 2 discussion threads, the Resilience 2011 conference and on the paper by Scheffer et al . Later, we will place these on separate pages.

Resilience 2011 conference

Very evident that "Resilience / Panarchy" is a young, developing discipline. The conference was an opportunity to drink deeply from that cup, and I feel like I got a good sense of the field. For me, the key scientific innovation of resilience is that it calls attention to the surprise, non-linear, "tipping points" in nature. Manage for surprise, expect the unexpected. This is a paradigm shift in terms of how we look at nature (goes beyond the equilibrium, "balance of nature" paradigm).

The other paradigm shift, which I see as a noble but insufficient effort, seeks to integrate natural science and social science. It's clearly natural scientists trying to bring about this integration, so naturally they take natural science concepts and apply them to social systems. This effort is incomplete and at some levels naive. There was a certain reaction at the conference from the social science side ... 'you guys are naive ... your concepts will not apply in social systems.' Specifically, the social scientists resent having ecological concepts applied to social systems because they do not take account of agency, reflexivity, and power differentials. It was good to see this debate, though probably any social scientist participating in the conference would say that it was under-represented.

My personal evaluation of this effort by the natural scientists to integrate social systems into their analysis: 1) it is essential 2) although insufficient to date, it is possible, from an analytical perspective -- they are making strides, that need to be extended 3) in contrast to their social analysis, the resilience community's process of interacting with stakeholders is even less developed. bordering on the negligent. The "Resilience Assessment" tool, which we are seeking to apply in our Cotrigauçu work, is very expert-driven, a typical technocratic, planning approach. I think our group in Mato Grosso is innovating in this regard, and has much to contribute to the Resilience network. We got a wonderful response to our presentation. Our project is now registered at the Resilience Alliance web site of assessment projects (last item on this page http://www.resalliance.org/cdirs/raprojects/index.php/0/browse)

Shifting paradigms, shifting grounds, integrating to transform, innovating to survive. The conference brought some very clear answer to our questions, and at the same time, did not relieve our anxieties. It confirmed that the social sciences are under-represented and that the resilience approach has a clear focus on maintaining ecosystems functioning and services. But how do you work with a multitude of perspectives and interests of actors involved in the management of ecosystems is still very unclear, and we can't start to develop a new science or paradigm for this, because there is already a long road driven by other knowledge fields, such as anthropology, development theories and participation. Scheffer's brilliant presentation on "Holism 2.0" calls for defragmentation of sicence. Here is where complexity has a role to play: the whole is bigger than the sum of parts, but the parts "do" exist" and should be considered as such. The good news is the attempt to bridge different disciplines, views and "people", who are the ones capable of transforming things in different scales, local to global and back if you wish. No reinventing the square whell needed. Integration needed. Resilience is no panacea, and the bigger theory is systems thinking. Learning with history, coping with the unexpected through building stronger societies, to prepare for change. Clear need for working in urban areas, bringing art, emotions and science into play. It was very interesting for me the possibility of meeting the authors and asking questions directly toi them and verifying that they do have sifferent opinios, bu some common though, for instance, talking about interdisciplinarity as learning with local actors, practitioners and between academics with a will to do so. Another field of relevance in my work is, if we are to apply the concept in social systems, it makes sense for me to think about cultural resilience as a useful concept for indigenous societies in a changing world. I believe that is can be a concept that enables continuity and change, and in which longitudinal studies allow for understanding the path, mechanisms and outcomes of being aware of the changing or transformative process. It can't and won't replace studies of dynamics of cultural identity in anthropology. But is might be an interesting complementary concept to explore and build along with other disciplinary fields, promoting learning between disciplines, scientists, indigenous and other stakeholders. Simone Brazil nut.


I have a multitude of impressions to share about this conference, but I would like to use an extended metaphor, maybe more of an allegory, as indeed that is what the ResAlliance is in the business of doing.

Let's say a small band of clerics, we'll call them The Chosen (the word illuminati was, well, chosen already), decide to engage on a noble pursuit: a new dogma that helps to explain the workings of the galaxy. They call it the Sign of the Infinity (or Horizontal Eight depending on which gospel you select from), and this dogma can pretty much describe why you prefer blue M&Ms, where baby rabbits go when they die, and how radioactive that plant in Fukushima really is. Really, it can do all that. The Chosen are effective proselytizers: they are positioned in high places and have earned themselves good standing in their local parishes. They are very effective with the Partly Elect, because they have a similar origin myth, but they are less effective with the Heathens, who believe in strange ideas about spiritual representation and the ghastly god called On-Toh-Logee. Until one day they are able to make headway with a particularly powerful band of the Heathens, who they buy off with promises of whiskey and ammunition, and they begin to plot the realization of their full vision: a world where the Sign is posted on every rooftop and staked in every yard. One day, in the middle of a highly charged seance, The Chosen begin to realize that not all of the heathens have been fully converted. For instance one heathen is observed carrying the false idol On-Toh-Logee in his hand; another is heard uttering occult words that no civilized ears should deign to hear. But the seance continues, and little is made of the disruptions by the high priests. When the event is over, and everyone has arisen from their fevered, catatonic state, The Chosen are more emboldened and feel that their mission must be accomplished faster and more efficiently. But some heathens are not convinced. They meet quietly outside the revival tent and begin to ask questions: "Should we throw away the whiskey?" asks one. "Should we use the ammunition (if only we had guns!)?" inquires another.

I don't think I'm as cynical as I portray here, but I thought I should depict at least one reading of the conference events, o best beloved. ~ Sam


The conference calls us to the reality of the academic world, with remarkable exceptions. First science is driven by financial resources, second publishing is the most important outcome, third high resilience of disciplines, and good scientific material could be lost in the mismatch use of concepts. We saw all of it in one place. However the good superposed the bad in being there. First going as a group was a excellent source of maturing what we learned along the day. We had excellent discussion about all the problems I presented above, and how we as group could make better, avoiding this traps. Second was great see in face some of the persons that wrote most of the theory. Make all the difference when I read a paper wrote by Orston, have her image associated. I don’t know why, but make difference. Third because was a huge conference, we were able to know the state of art of resilience, what are the constraints, fragilities, advances and groups that are leading the process. About the academic knowledge, for me the most remarkable was the increase use of SNA to study human systems, the difficulty that is work together social and natural sciences, the fragility that represents the use of resilience science to answer stakeholder’s needs. Ricmel 12:53, 25 March 2011 (UTC)


paper by Scheffer et al

Scheffer may have been the most stimulating speaker at the Resilience conference. Right Sam? I found figures 1 and 2 to be a good review ... very didactic. The meat of this paper is the second half, that gives a very rigorous analysis of interest group politics, and why management will always aim for an optimum, overshoot the optimum, and why this can often lead to collapse.


The Scheffer et al. piece reads like the opening salvo to the siege that PES has taken on modern environmental science and policy. The premise is simple: while the biophysical system degrades, the social system continues on a growth trajectory. Or as Carpenter et al. 2001 put it way back when we were reading them: "The collapse of the biophysical system does not usually cause a simultaneous collapse of the local economy because the economy does not solely depend on the lake. The agricultural sector, for example, may use the lake only as a sink for wastes while extracting the water needed for agriculture from the groundwater.Other interest groups may likewise depend wholly or in part on resources from other regions."

Indeed, this piece points to a lot of the material that is taken as gospel in SES-type research these days, with a particular focus on those northern European lakes we love so dearly. They include the slow dynamics of soil and sediment phosphorous, exclusion of water quality from market valuation, the value of the ecosystem services not being properly accounted in indices of social wellbeing, a lack of a market for pollutant discharge (cap and trade), the fact that farmers do not have incentives to control pollution, and the mis-matches of political power between environmental advocates and business interests.

Read from the vantage point of 2000, it appears fresh, but read from the vantage point of today it almost seems as though the adaptive cycle provides nothing new here. Certainly there are good frames to explore PES, and the social and environmental conditions which constitute, without using resilience frameworks? Scheffer's talk was much along the same lines, and Bob pointed out that his discussion of autocorrelation of datapoints before regime shifts as being innovative, but in this case while I do think they provide a good way of discussing how dire (perhaps hopeless) environmental and social conditions are in the world right now(even in the Netherlands?!), this piece doesn't seem to groundbreaking. Others? ~Sam

Scheffer way to see interaction between social and ecological system is based on the contradiction. In other words increase in human welfare means increase in ecosystem stress. Along their line of argumentation about implications of social choices of using ecosystem resources they relay in a old style argumentation of how to deal with power, putting the state as able to design and implement policies to get the best deal for all stakeholders. The second point that I would like to highlight is the importance of good understanding about the ecosystem dynamics to guide political decision out of the edge. The argumentation is that if we consider the size of the country economy, decision over a localized ecosystem could be done searching for the public optimum. But as we see in the Amazon and elsewhere more, political and economic drivers are drove by direct users (Affectors in paper language). I really like the idea of graphic representation, although as Sam present, bring not new to the debate Ricmel

Is it possible to facilitate transformation? During the conference, I targeted presentations on “learning” and “social networks.” Several of these discussed participatory modeling, multi-stakeholder management of resources, and the facilitation of visioning processes. However, they often departed from a “tool-box” approach that incorporated simulation games or similar techniques. I believe that this approach fails to emphasize the social conditions of engagement, such as the complexities inherent in navigating diverse stakeholder needs, the various motivations that drive participation, or the implications of unbalanced knowledge, skills, or power. The situations/contexts in which these games are used deserve far greater attention. In a few cases presenters discussed how to improve the process of learning among stakeholders and design conditions under which social learning is more likely to occur. However, in general, research projects seemed to be guided by the assumption that learning and participation simply happen when you bring people together around the table. Little sensitivity was given to how people participate, how differences and tensions are managed, or how alliances form. More effort is needed to describe and evaluate how participation, reflection and learning among stakeholders impact outcomes and relationships. I was relieved when I heard Bill Clark from Harvard admit that “Imagining a future is very different from capturing it. Learning is a political act and so the question becomes - Who gets to the table?” Network presentations emphasized that one might manipulate networks by designing interventions that build ties, by seeking leverage points in the system, or by creating networks that lead to emergent entrepreneurial activity. In a world of contested power and conflicting interests I was left with the following questions: Who might be deemed appropriate to conduct all this manipulation? How does the selection of these decision makers affect the potential to transform social systems vs. maintain the status quo? WL