Resilience and adaptive capacity in social-ecological systems: the good, the bad and the trendy


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Social-ecological systems in emerging democracies are often in an untenable state. Under such conditions, building resilience is not appropriate and transformation is the way forward. In this presentation I briefly explain the theoretical underpinnings of resilience and transformation and provide examples of transformative strategies from communal areas in South Africa and Tajikistan to explain.

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Resilience and adaptive capacity in social-ecological systems: the good, the bad and the trendy

  1. 1. Resilience and adaptive capacity in social-ecological systems: the good, the bad and the trendy Christo Fabricius Resilience Alliance
  2. 2. Here it is…
  3. 3. Social-ecological systems from Ostrom 2009. Science 235: 420
  4. 4. resilience• The ability to absorb disturbances• Capacity of the system to be changed – and then to re-organise – and still retain the same basic structure and ways of functioning• Declining resilience -> declining magnitude of shocks from which system cannot recover
  5. 5. Resilience Time
  6. 6. The Resilience of the Earth System
  7. 7. The slippery slope of resilience loss Cundill & Fabricius 2009 in Exploring Sustainability Science: a Southern African perspective, pp. 537-568.
  8. 8. Adaptive renewal cycle • Several possible states • Crucial role of disturbance • Irregular cycles of ‘capital’ accumulation, release and re-organization • Feedbacks between and within scales
  9. 9. Lock-in traps • An undesirable state from which ‘escape’ is difficult • The system has become locked in • Characterized by • low potential for change • rigidity • high resistance to change • Sources of novelty and innovation have been eliminatedAllison, H. E. and R. J. Hobbs. 2004. Ecology andSociety 9(1): 3.
  10. 10. Thresholds and regime shifts
  11. 11. The problem with resilience..
  12. 12. • What if the system is not in a good place? – would adapting and ‘bouncing back’ be enough?• Some untenable situations can be very resilient
  13. 13. • Elements of adaptive capacity, e.g. – traditions, sense of place, identity• might inhibit meaningful change• Response: reduce resilience?
  14. 14. A ‘resilience’ approach to development..
  15. 15. Transfer of vulnerability Building resilience in one context sometimes creates vulnerabilities in another
  16. 16. Transformation• Transformability: “The capacity to create a fundamentally new system when ecological, economic, or social (including political) conditions make the existing system untenable” www.resalliance.orgWalker et al. 2004. Ecology and Society 9(2): 5.
  17. 17. “can we innovate sufficiently rapidly and withsufficient intelligence to transform our systemout of a destructive pathway….”Westley et al. 2011. Ambio 40: 762-789
  18. 18. Processes of transformation• Institutional • Bridging agents • Earth stewardship entrepreneurs • Connectors • Incentives• Behind the scenes’ • Communities of • Monitoring innovations practice • Adaptive management• Shadow networks • Repair & restoration
  19. 19. Transformation through knowledge sharing & interrogating conventional beliefs
  20. 20. Transformation throughcreating new awareness
  21. 21. Transformation through learning Forming alliances and knowledge networks
  22. 22. Transformation through institutional renewal Leadership: the importance of ‘key individuals’ or ‘stewards’
  23. 23. Transformation through linkages and alliances
  24. 24. Transformation through repair of ecosystem services
  25. 25. A few research questions• What can we learn from existing self-organizing transformations? – the role of citizen’s science• Which social-ecological processes promote and inhibit transformation?• What are the long term impacts of adaptation vs. transformation?• Challenges: – hold our frameworks loosely – embrace multiple epistemologies – be prepared to tread ‘where angels fear to go’