Session 4: Resilience in complex human-natural systems

Session 4: Resilience in complex human-natural systems, Tate Hall, room 135. Chair: Carolyn Lesorogol.

1:30-1:50         William Keegan, Supply-side resilience

In classic Resilience theory the dynamics of social-ecological systems are described as a cycle that passes through four phases. The first two are a growth and exploitation phase r, merging into a conservation phase K.   As Keegan, Johnson and Earle pointed out 30 years ago, the smooth curve between r and K only occurs under conditions of inelastic supply. Moreover, at K/2 there is an unstable “optimal” equilibrium point (the inflection point in the Verhulst-Pearl logistic equation where d/dN dN/dt = 0; here called A), which may represent a “basin of attraction.” Using examples from Island Archaeology, this paper explores the evolution of supply in relation to systems transformations prior to the terminal transformation or “collapse.” When an economy enters a period of diminishing marginal returns to production it is encouraged by density dependent constraints to pursue new means, modes, and relations of production. These are not invented or developed sui generis, but rather are intensified from among marginal options. These options emerge during periods of pre-optimal production (r0 to rmax). During these periods non-optimal and non-rational behaviors provide a foundation for resilience during episodes of dependent and independent changes. The mathematical models provide a method for calculating the timing and direction of such changes, and the rate of density-dependent transformations. In addition, from the perspective of Chaos theory the r to K transition has very different properties than those predicted by the standard model. Populations are actually pulled in two dimensions, defined by the stable equilibrium point K and the unstable equilibrium point A (rmax). These are expressed as conservative (i.e., equilibrium) and opportunistic responses.

Finally, it is argued that human systems rarely collapse as the result of constraints to production. They key factor is social organization and kinship as instituted process.

Two brief examples. First, a major constraint to the colonization of islands by horticultural groups is the capacity of their gardens to rapidly produce substantial quantities of carbohydrates (i.e., beachhead bottleneck). Raymond Firth reported that in Tikopia the sweet potato was considered the “mother crop,” yet taro and breadfruit were the staples and sweet potato was a minor cultigen. The reason given is that irrigated taro land was five times more productive than rain-fed sweet potato. The reason sweet potato was regarded as special was likely because it can be harvested in three to six months versus nine to eighteen months for taro. Thus, sweet potato provided the first crop available from the new colonists’ gardens.   The importance of sweet potato was again demonstrated following two hurricanes and a tsunami in early 1952. Sweet potato and manioc were the first edible cultigens from the replanted gardens. Second, in the Caribbean (and elsewhere), the consumption of small mollusks makes little economic sense. Changes in mollusk use through time are discussed in terms of resilience. It is argued that mollusks originally allowed women and children to contribute protein to the diet at a relatively low marginal labor rate, and that mollusks were fetishized in certain ceremonial activities because they were expensive yet abundant.

1:50-2:10         Discussion

2:10-2:30         Keely Maxwell, Resilience indicators as system measures and epistemological narratives

In past few years, government agencies, corporations, and non-profits have initiated a spate of resilience policies and programs in the United States. Along with increased investment in community resilience come increased calls from the scientific and policy arenas to measure it. Federal agencies are designing resilience assessments. Scientists from disciplines as diverse as geography, engineering, and public health have proposed resilience indicators, metrics, and indices. Given the rush to add resilience forecasting to resilience-building tools, a critical examination of these efforts is warranted. This paper presents the results of a systematic review of indicators of community resilience to disasters. It discusses why measuring resilience has become so popular, what is being measured, and how. This research used a coupled human-natural systems framework to categorize indicators in a way that reflects underlying human ecosystem structures and processes. The framework situates disaster causes and consequences within broader human-environment relations. A literature search was conducted to find articles containing resilience indicators. The search covered four databases of scientific journals and four institutional reports. The 434 articles retrieved were screened to determine eligibility for inclusion. They had to be about resilience of communities, to disasters, and contain indicators. A total of 42 articles met these criteria. The 42 articles contained 902 counts of resilience indicators. This paper presents an analysis of a subset of economic indicators (e.g. household savings, unemployment rates, municipal revenues) and social indicators (e.g. demographic vulnerability, civic organizations, social networks). It evaluates indicator trends in terms of measurability, meaningfulness, and what they do or don’t tell us about key system variables. It also assesses what the indicators reveal about underlying perceptions and values regarding resilience, including the role of capital, neoliberalism, and the nature of community. The demand for resilience assessments is not likely to abate anytime soon. Indicators will be put to use in designing programs, allocating resources, and measuring community progress. An anthropological perspective on resilience indicators can help scientists, community constituents, and decision-makers identify appropriate indicators and reflect critically on how to use them in a way that supports community efforts to build resilience.

2:30-2:50         Discussion

2:50-3:10         Nora Haenn, Bridget Schmook, Claudia Radel, and Sophie Calmé. Livelihood networks in Southern Mexico: A response to resilience theory

This paper draws on research that depicts changing household economies in rural southern Mexico to question resilience theory’s implicit support of social persistence. Resilience researchers premise persistence by calling it “robust” and view change as an agent of “vulnerability.” Vulnerable socio-ecologies are those that must undergo some modification “or face extinction.” While resilience in ecosystems may be desirable, some researchers argue that when applied to humans, the concept fails to address questions of poverty and inequality. The idea, furthermore, is challenged to respond to the ongoing changes, including creative destruction, demanded by today’s economies. This paper reports on findings from southern Mexico that show households there have changed both at the instigation of neoliberal state policies and as a result of local preferences. Where farming was once the most important economic activity, now farming is part of a diversified economy that includes state subsidies, migrant remittances, and other possibilities. Cash-poor families of two decades ago now engage eagerly in consumer behavior by which they tap into distant and unknown ecologies. These changes are not unique to Mexico but represent larger, global shifts at the end of the 20th century. The paper explores how we might conceptualize these changes within a justice framework while retaining the innovative way resilience research has linked dynamic, interacting socio-ecologies. We propose the idea of Livelihood Networks to consider the range of livelihood strategies that people, wildlife and other non-human species undertake in southern Mexico’s globalized rainforest landscapes. Through a Livelihood Networks approach, we hope to better understand socio-ecological systems as material arrangements but also sites where multiple, even conflicting, meanings travel across linkages with consequences for the well-being of human and non-human actors.

3:10-3:30         Discussion

3:30-3:45         Break

3:45-4:05         David Manuel-Navarrete, Lakshmi Charli-Joseph, Hallie Eakin, Bertha Hernández Aguilar, Alejandra Martínez-Canedo, Beth Tellman. Changing identities of socio-ecological systems and water-related risks in the Xochimilco lake system of Mexico City

The system of lakes, canals, and artificial islands for intensive farming (Chinampas) that was predominant in the Valley of Mexico in pre-Hispanic times, has historically supplied food, water, recreation, and land for the urban expansion of Mexico City. It has also become a sink for its wastewaters, as well as a flood regulation system. The dominant mental models amongst Spanish and Mexican authorities portrayed this aquatic system as incompatible with urban progress, and have consistently promoted its decay and elimination. An alternative mental model that articulates narratives of the system identity as integral to the city’s heritage and functionally linked to urban dynamics through ecotourism, organic agriculture, and the provision of key ecological services gained legitimacy in the 1980s. The government responded with the top-down declaration of the area as World Heritage by UNESCO (1987), and the establishment of a Natural Protected Area (1992) but failed to effectively support traditional agriculture. In parallel communal (ejido) and other farmlands in the area were expropriated, which increased irregular urbanization pressures. These events show that dilemmas posed by opposing mental models can result in unexpected and undesirable material outcomes.  They suggest the need to understand socio-ecological dynamics as emerging from entwined material and cognitive processes.

This paper evaluates how different mental models incorporate diverse aspects of environmental risk, and how risk in turn shapes mental models and the narratives of the social-ecological system identity. Research was conducted in the context of NSF research project “Dynamics of Multi-Scalar Adaptation in the Megalopolis: Autonomous action, institutional change and social-hydrological risk in Mexico City” (MEGADAPT). Interviews, participatory workshops and focus groups were conducted with: (1) agricultural producers, (3) NGOs, (3) experts and academics, and (4) government officials in charge of urbanization, flood risk management and conservation both in Mexico City and at the borough of Xochimilco. The mental models of these actors were elicited in relation to flooding, scarcity, and water quality.

Preliminary results indicate that water pollution is a central risk in the majority of elicited mental models. Risk is meaningful to different actors in different ways. Perceptions of risk factors shape each agent’s constellation of interrelated material and socio-cultural drivers and factors through which the system is rendered intelligible. Responsibility for causing and managing risks are attributed to material factors as well as the actions, perceptions and interests of other agents. At the same time risks are interconnected across scales. The lake serves as a risk mitigation function for the entire city, but this function poses direct risk of flooding to agricultural use, thus threatening the natural and cultural heritage associated with it. Locally, livelihoods are at risk by water quality, which in turn jeopardizes the lake system as a viable source of longer-term ecological functions (also the city scale). The analysis of mental models is a first step to grasp the cognitive complexity associated with the changing identities of socio-ecological systems, including the role played by environmental risks.

4:05-4:25         Discussion

4:25-4:45         N. Thomas Hakansson, Undead Theory: Is resilience thinking actually systems theory walking again?

In this paper, I examine the analytical utility and theoretical status of the resilience concept. I compare it to political ecology theory through two case studies of land use and livelihoods in the South Pare area, northeastern Tanzania. One case is based on my own research on land use change in northeastern Pare, and the other is a study that applies resilience theory in an area of southwestern South Pare.

Resilience has become a very popular term that is used in a variety of scholarly and development planning endeavors. It is used in many ways, often in a vague sense, by authors who want to portray social and economic situations in which people maintain subsistence and some form of institutional coherence in the face of adversity or shocks to their livelihoods.  In this way, the popularity of resilience can be compared to the earlier widespread popularity of the resistance concept from James Scott’s work.  But it also has a more specific meaning that is connected with a popular and widespread approach to the analysis of the interrelationship between environment and social and economic institutions and activities, especially in the current global South.

The theoretical concept of resilience derives from a particular approach to ecology developed by the Canadian ecologist, C. S. Holling, and has its intellectual home at the Stockholm Resilience Center, Sweden. Within this more theoretically focused context, resilience is defined as the ability of human communities to withstand and recover from such stresses as environmental change, or social, economic or political upheaval. Within resilience theory, or resilience thinking as it is also called, these human-environmental relationships are conceived of as complex adaptive social-ecological systems that exhibit resilience as a trait of the system itself through feed-back loops between individual behavior and macro-level properties of the system. At first glance, it seems as though proponents of resilience thinking view resilience as a property of systems dynamics, rather than as property of social structures and individual agency. However, followers of this approach also explain resilience as conscious, collective action through learning and co-management, an analytical approach that entails an unrealistic assumption about the homogeneity of interest and power, and hence reduces sustainable land use to no more than knowledge acquisition and the ability to organize management. Thus, resilience theory contains within it a contradiction between systems teleology and the agency inherent in conscious management.

My comparative analysis of the two communities and theoretical approaches shows that the concept of resilience is difficult to operationalize and should not be taken to be a theoretical explanation of how social activities are related to natural phenomena. At most, resilience thinking may yield useful descriptors of how households and communities are impacted by, and respond to, events such as droughts or floods, and by long-term economic trends.

 

4:45-5:05         Discussion

Tate Hall, room 135. Chair: Carolyn Lesorogol.

1:30-1:50         William Keegan, Supply-side resilience

In classic Resilience theory the dynamics of social-ecological systems are described as a cycle that passes through four phases. The first two are a growth and exploitation phase r, merging into a conservation phase K.   As Keegan, Johnson and Earle pointed out 30 years ago, the smooth curve between r and K only occurs under conditions of inelastic supply. Moreover, at K/2 there is an unstable “optimal” equilibrium point (the inflection point in the Verhulst-Pearl logistic equation where d/dN dN/dt = 0; here called A), which may represent a “basin of attraction.” Using examples from Island Archaeology, this paper explores the evolution of supply in relation to systems transformations prior to the terminal transformation or “collapse.” When an economy enters a period of diminishing marginal returns to production it is encouraged by density dependent constraints to pursue new means, modes, and relations of production. These are not invented or developed sui generis, but rather are intensified from among marginal options. These options emerge during periods of pre-optimal production (r0 to rmax). During these periods non-optimal and non-rational behaviors provide a foundation for resilience during episodes of dependent and independent changes. The mathematical models provide a method for calculating the timing and direction of such changes, and the rate of density-dependent transformations. In addition, from the perspective of Chaos theory the r to K transition has very different properties than those predicted by the standard model. Populations are actually pulled in two dimensions, defined by the stable equilibrium point K and the unstable equilibrium point A (rmax). These are expressed as conservative (i.e., equilibrium) and opportunistic responses.

Finally, it is argued that human systems rarely collapse as the result of constraints to production. They key factor is social organization and kinship as instituted process.

Two brief examples. First, a major constraint to the colonization of islands by horticultural groups is the capacity of their gardens to rapidly produce substantial quantities of carbohydrates (i.e., beachhead bottleneck). Raymond Firth reported that in Tikopia the sweet potato was considered the “mother crop,” yet taro and breadfruit were the staples and sweet potato was a minor cultigen. The reason given is that irrigated taro land was five times more productive than rain-fed sweet potato. The reason sweet potato was regarded as special was likely because it can be harvested in three to six months versus nine to eighteen months for taro. Thus, sweet potato provided the first crop available from the new colonists’ gardens.   The importance of sweet potato was again demonstrated following two hurricanes and a tsunami in early 1952. Sweet potato and manioc were the first edible cultigens from the replanted gardens. Second, in the Caribbean (and elsewhere), the consumption of small mollusks makes little economic sense. Changes in mollusk use through time are discussed in terms of resilience. It is argued that mollusks originally allowed women and children to contribute protein to the diet at a relatively low marginal labor rate, and that mollusks were fetishized in certain ceremonial activities because they were expensive yet abundant.

1:50-2:10         Discussion

2:10-2:30         Keely Maxwell, Resilience indicators as system measures and epistemological narratives

In past few years, government agencies, corporations, and non-profits have initiated a spate of resilience policies and programs in the United States. Along with increased investment in community resilience come increased calls from the scientific and policy arenas to measure it. Federal agencies are designing resilience assessments. Scientists from disciplines as diverse as geography, engineering, and public health have proposed resilience indicators, metrics, and indices. Given the rush to add resilience forecasting to resilience-building tools, a critical examination of these efforts is warranted. This paper presents the results of a systematic review of indicators of community resilience to disasters. It discusses why measuring resilience has become so popular, what is being measured, and how. This research used a coupled human-natural systems framework to categorize indicators in a way that reflects underlying human ecosystem structures and processes. The framework situates disaster causes and consequences within broader human-environment relations. A literature search was conducted to find articles containing resilience indicators. The search covered four databases of scientific journals and four institutional reports. The 434 articles retrieved were screened to determine eligibility for inclusion. They had to be about resilience of communities, to disasters, and contain indicators. A total of 42 articles met these criteria. The 42 articles contained 902 counts of resilience indicators. This paper presents an analysis of a subset of economic indicators (e.g. household savings, unemployment rates, municipal revenues) and social indicators (e.g. demographic vulnerability, civic organizations, social networks). It evaluates indicator trends in terms of measurability, meaningfulness, and what they do or don’t tell us about key system variables. It also assesses what the indicators reveal about underlying perceptions and values regarding resilience, including the role of capital, neoliberalism, and the nature of community. The demand for resilience assessments is not likely to abate anytime soon. Indicators will be put to use in designing programs, allocating resources, and measuring community progress. An anthropological perspective on resilience indicators can help scientists, community constituents, and decision-makers identify appropriate indicators and reflect critically on how to use them in a way that supports community efforts to build resilience.

2:30-2:50         Discussion

2:50-3:10         Nora Haenn, Bridget Schmook, Claudia Radel, and Sophie Calmé. Livelihood networks in Southern Mexico: A response to resilience theory

This paper draws on research that depicts changing household economies in rural southern Mexico to question resilience theory’s implicit support of social persistence. Resilience researchers premise persistence by calling it “robust” and view change as an agent of “vulnerability.” Vulnerable socio-ecologies are those that must undergo some modification “or face extinction.” While resilience in ecosystems may be desirable, some researchers argue that when applied to humans, the concept fails to address questions of poverty and inequality. The idea, furthermore, is challenged to respond to the ongoing changes, including creative destruction, demanded by today’s economies. This paper reports on findings from southern Mexico that show households there have changed both at the instigation of neoliberal state policies and as a result of local preferences. Where farming was once the most important economic activity, now farming is part of a diversified economy that includes state subsidies, migrant remittances, and other possibilities. Cash-poor families of two decades ago now engage eagerly in consumer behavior by which they tap into distant and unknown ecologies. These changes are not unique to Mexico but represent larger, global shifts at the end of the 20th century. The paper explores how we might conceptualize these changes within a justice framework while retaining the innovative way resilience research has linked dynamic, interacting socio-ecologies. We propose the idea of Livelihood Networks to consider the range of livelihood strategies that people, wildlife and other non-human species undertake in southern Mexico’s globalized rainforest landscapes. Through a Livelihood Networks approach, we hope to better understand socio-ecological systems as material arrangements but also sites where multiple, even conflicting, meanings travel across linkages with consequences for the well-being of human and non-human actors.

3:10-3:30         Discussion

3:30-3:45         Break

3:45-4:05         David Manuel-Navarrete, Lakshmi Charli-Joseph, Hallie Eakin, Bertha Hernández Aguilar, Alejandra Martínez-Canedo, Beth Tellman. Changing identities of socio-ecological systems and water-related risks in the Xochimilco lake system of Mexico City

The system of lakes, canals, and artificial islands for intensive farming (Chinampas) that was predominant in the Valley of Mexico in pre-Hispanic times, has historically supplied food, water, recreation, and land for the urban expansion of Mexico City. It has also become a sink for its wastewaters, as well as a flood regulation system. The dominant mental models amongst Spanish and Mexican authorities portrayed this aquatic system as incompatible with urban progress, and have consistently promoted its decay and elimination. An alternative mental model that articulates narratives of the system identity as integral to the city’s heritage and functionally linked to urban dynamics through ecotourism, organic agriculture, and the provision of key ecological services gained legitimacy in the 1980s. The government responded with the top-down declaration of the area as World Heritage by UNESCO (1987), and the establishment of a Natural Protected Area (1992) but failed to effectively support traditional agriculture. In parallel communal (ejido) and other farmlands in the area were expropriated, which increased irregular urbanization pressures. These events show that dilemmas posed by opposing mental models can result in unexpected and undesirable material outcomes.  They suggest the need to understand socio-ecological dynamics as emerging from entwined material and cognitive processes.

This paper evaluates how different mental models incorporate diverse aspects of environmental risk, and how risk in turn shapes mental models and the narratives of the social-ecological system identity. Research was conducted in the context of NSF research project “Dynamics of Multi-Scalar Adaptation in the Megalopolis: Autonomous action, institutional change and social-hydrological risk in Mexico City” (MEGADAPT). Interviews, participatory workshops and focus groups were conducted with: (1) agricultural producers, (3) NGOs, (3) experts and academics, and (4) government officials in charge of urbanization, flood risk management and conservation both in Mexico City and at the borough of Xochimilco. The mental models of these actors were elicited in relation to flooding, scarcity, and water quality.

Preliminary results indicate that water pollution is a central risk in the majority of elicited mental models. Risk is meaningful to different actors in different ways. Perceptions of risk factors shape each agent’s constellation of interrelated material and socio-cultural drivers and factors through which the system is rendered intelligible. Responsibility for causing and managing risks are attributed to material factors as well as the actions, perceptions and interests of other agents. At the same time risks are interconnected across scales. The lake serves as a risk mitigation function for the entire city, but this function poses direct risk of flooding to agricultural use, thus threatening the natural and cultural heritage associated with it. Locally, livelihoods are at risk by water quality, which in turn jeopardizes the lake system as a viable source of longer-term ecological functions (also the city scale). The analysis of mental models is a first step to grasp the cognitive complexity associated with the changing identities of socio-ecological systems, including the role played by environmental risks.

4:05-4:25         Discussion

4:25-4:45         N. Thomas Hakansson, Undead Theory: Is resilience thinking actually systems theory walking again?

In this paper, I examine the analytical utility and theoretical status of the resilience concept. I compare it to political ecology theory through two case studies of land use and livelihoods in the South Pare area, northeastern Tanzania. One case is based on my own research on land use change in northeastern Pare, and the other is a study that applies resilience theory in an area of southwestern South Pare.

Resilience has become a very popular term that is used in a variety of scholarly and development planning endeavors. It is used in many ways, often in a vague sense, by authors who want to portray social and economic situations in which people maintain subsistence and some form of institutional coherence in the face of adversity or shocks to their livelihoods.  In this way, the popularity of resilience can be compared to the earlier widespread popularity of the resistance concept from James Scott’s work.  But it also has a more specific meaning that is connected with a popular and widespread approach to the analysis of the interrelationship between environment and social and economic institutions and activities, especially in the current global South.

The theoretical concept of resilience derives from a particular approach to ecology developed by the Canadian ecologist, C. S. Holling, and has its intellectual home at the Stockholm Resilience Center, Sweden. Within this more theoretically focused context, resilience is defined as the ability of human communities to withstand and recover from such stresses as environmental change, or social, economic or political upheaval. Within resilience theory, or resilience thinking as it is also called, these human-environmental relationships are conceived of as complex adaptive social-ecological systems that exhibit resilience as a trait of the system itself through feed-back loops between individual behavior and macro-level properties of the system. At first glance, it seems as though proponents of resilience thinking view resilience as a property of systems dynamics, rather than as property of social structures and individual agency. However, followers of this approach also explain resilience as conscious, collective action through learning and co-management, an analytical approach that entails an unrealistic assumption about the homogeneity of interest and power, and hence reduces sustainable land use to no more than knowledge acquisition and the ability to organize management. Thus, resilience theory contains within it a contradiction between systems teleology and the agency inherent in conscious management.

My comparative analysis of the two communities and theoretical approaches shows that the concept of resilience is difficult to operationalize and should not be taken to be a theoretical explanation of how social activities are related to natural phenomena. At most, resilience thinking may yield useful descriptors of how households and communities are impacted by, and respond to, events such as droughts or floods, and by long-term economic trends.

 

4:45-5:05         Discussion