Reflections from the Wednesday morning session “Debating the big questions of adaptive governance in social-ecological systems”

Can adaptive governance actually destabilize deeply-rooted power structures to unlock social-ecological traps?

Leading our efforts to make the shift to sustainability is the aspiration to destabilize power structures that maintain social-ecological traps. When thinking about social-ecological traps, I think about people illegally cutting down forest to sell timber to privates logging companies already depleting the people’s forest (yes, the same forest that provides these people with wood, medicines and is their future land for developing subsistence agriculture).

Why do people that? It supposes that they lack the capacity to adjust behaviour to changes, leading to rigid and inert behavioural responses that reinforce unsustainable outcomes. Power structures are one of the forces that prevent people from adjusting their behaviour towards transformations. Maintaining this inert behaviour creates unsustainable outcomes, such as in the example, deforestation and poverty.

There are, however, several human responses to this inert behaviour and established power structures:
• People accept they will not change – because they do not have the ability neither the desire to do so
• People do not want to change – they have the ability but not the desire to do so
• People would like to change – they have the desire but not the ability to do so
• People will change – because they have the desire and ability to do so
• People do not accept that they lack the ability to change although they have the strong desire to do so – they will rebel or resist

Could adaptive governance promote a response that could challenge well-established power structures that maintain this rigid and inert behaviour? The debate has been thrilling today in the contributed session about “Debating the big questions of adaptive governance in social-ecological systems.” The concept of window of opportunity received a lot of attention. Leadership, adaptive co-management, challenges, and transformation of social norms are individual responses at the local level that could lead to destabilisation of power structures. How do people reach the capacity to do that?
Addressing historical marginalization and opening up research paths in the Global South are the main research frontiers.

Next time I think about people and their forests, I will think about transformation towards resistance. What example will you think about?

Inspiring readings and references
Boonstra, W.J., Björkvik, E., Haider, L.J. et al. (2016). Human responses to social-ecological traps. Sustainability Science 11: 877. doi:10.1007/s11625-016-0397-x
Chaffin, B.C., Gunderson L.H. (2016). Emergence, Institutionalization and Renewal: Rhythms of Adaptive Governance in Complex Social-Ecological Systems. Journal of Environmental Management 165 (1): 81-87.

Your Resilience2017 correspondent:

Noelia Zafra-Calvo is a transdisciplinary conservation social scientist. Her work aims to understand the human and social dimensions that enhance or hamper nature conservation. She is currently a postdoc at the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate (University of Copenhagen). Noelia moved from systematic conservation planning approaches to focus mostly on including social justice in conservation after ten years of professional experience working with multiple non academic actors in African countries.


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