Ecology and Society: The dynamics of purposeful change: a model – Silverman and Hill (2018)

Silverman, H., and G. M. Hill. 2018. The dynamics of purposeful change: a model. Ecology and Society 23(3):4. https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-10243-230304

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Silverman, H., and G. M. Hill. 2018. The dynamics of purposeful change: a model. Ecology and Society23(3):4.
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Synthesis

The dynamics of purposeful change: a model

1Pacific Northwest College of Art, 2University of Portland

ABSTRACT

In order to describe and depict the dynamics of purposeful change, we reexamine the concept of social-ecological systems (SES) and propose a linked but not integrated SES model. Adapting core resilience tools (stability landscape and panarchy), we construct a general model and then use a framework of key concepts (identity, logics, affiliations, affordances) to analyze the dynamics depicted therein. We illustrate this model’s use in two cases: a retrospective analysis of food-systems work amidst contending social regimes and an interpretive reading of published narratives describing individual-to-ecological stability and change. We discuss this model’s applicability in situations involving divergent perspectives, micro-meso-macro social dynamics, social regime identity, and the distinct dynamics of social and ecological systems. This examination illustrates the power and flexibility of these core resilience tools.

Key words: bricolage; institutional logics; path dependence; reflexivity; social attractors; system archetypes

INTRODUCTION

Efforts to describe and depict the dynamics of purposeful change, from the individual level to the ecological, encounter numerous challenges. By definition, such efforts must bridge across or be fragmented by academic disciplines. Conceptual tools (e.g., models, methods, metaphors) developed in one context may not apply to another.

A strength of resilience scholarship is its shared set of tools for conducting interdisciplinary examinations. However, and as we will illustrate, the dynamical systems modeling developed by resilience scholars for the study of ecosystems does not directly translate to the social domain (Anderies and Norberg 2008, Byrne and Callaghan 2014). In order to explore these complexities, we use core resilience tools, the stability landscape and panarchy, to construct a model of individual-to-ecological dynamics. Both these tools reflect a systems approach (Folke 2006), and we likewise follow a systems approach in adapting these tools.

This model development leads us to reexamine the concept of social-ecological systems (SES) (Folke 2016). We describe the SES as a tool for conceptualizing interrelationships across social and ecological system domains. This statement is not intended to question the reality of intertwined social and ecological phenomena. Indeed, humans are embedded in and dependent upon the natural world. While emphasizing the reality of such phenomena, we concurrently emphasize the conceptual nature of tools, such as SES models, with which one might investigate and understand such phenomena (Becker 2012). With this dual emphasis, we underscore the potential for multiple SES approaches.

To distinguish and discuss how social-ecological interrelationships might be conceptualized, we draw a distinction between integrated and linked SES approaches. We describe an “integrated” or “unit-of-analysis” approach as typified by the combined representation of social and ecological dynamics in a single stability landscape (Sendzimir et al. 2007, Westley et al. 2011, Rockström 2014, Allen et al. 2016). In contrast, we describe “linked” or “linked-but-not-integrated” SES approaches as emphasizing social-ecological interactions while also “explicitly distinguishing” between the dynamics of social and ecological system domains (Manuel-Navarrete 2015).

This paper’s outline is as follows. In a Theoretical Background section, we use two core resilience tools, the stability landscape and panarchy, to construct a linked-but-not-integrated SES model. In the Methodssection, we describe our approach to developing and illustrating this model’s use as an analytical tool. We develop this tool by analyzing its depiction of individual-to-ecological dynamics, and we illustrate its use in two case studies. Lastly, we discuss this model’s practical applications and conclude by revisiting our initial propositions.

Questions about SES integration are not new. Holling (2001) and Westley et al. (2002) sought to distinguish ways in which human capabilities differ from those of other species. Walker et al. (2006) expressed cautions about “a common framework of system dynamics” before proposing its adoption. Since then, scholars have challenged integrated treatments of social and ecological dynamics (Hatt 2013, Brown 2016). What are the implications of integrating or linking depictions of social-ecological dynamics in a general model? This question animates our investigation.

Linked SES models can have significant practical applications. The focus of resilience scholarship on transformability (Folke et al. 2010, Smith and Stirling 2010, Pelling et al. 2012, Olsson et al. 2014) points to the value of granular resolution on social dynamics. We discuss this model’s applicability in four types of situations, involving divergent perspectives, micro-meso-macro social dynamics, social regime identity, and the distinct dynamics of social and ecological systems.

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