Theorizing the Social Structural Foundations of Adaptation and Transformation in Social-Ecological Systems

19 Pages Posted: 15 Mar 2017

See all articles by Michele Barnes

Michele Barnes

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University; University of Hawaii at Manoa

Örjan Bodin

Stockholm University - Stockholm Resilience Center

Angela Guerrero

University of Queensland

Ryan Mcallister

Government of the Commonwealth of Australia - CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation)

Steven Alexander

Stockholm University - Stockholm Resilience Center; University of Maryland - National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center

Garry Robins

University of Melbourne

Date Written: March 13, 2017

Abstract

Social networks are frequently cited as vital for facilitating successful adaptation and transformation in linked social-ecological systems to overcome pressing resource management challenges. Yet confusion remains over the precise nature of adaptation versus transformation, and the specific social network structures that facilitate these processes. Here we adopt a network perspective to theorize a continuum of structural capacities in social-ecological systems that set the stage for effective adaptation and transformation. We begin by drawing on the resilience literature and the multilayered action situation to link processes of change in social-ecological systems to decision making across multiple layers of rules underpinning societal organization. We then present a framework that hypotheses seven specific social-ecological network configurations that lay the structural foundation necessary for facilitating adaptation and transformation, given the type and magnitude of human action required. A key contribution of the framework is explicit consideration of how social networks relate to ecological structures and the particular environmental problem at hand. Of the seven configurations identified, three are linked to capacities conducive for adaptation and three to transformation, while one is hypothesized to be important for facilitating both processes. We discuss how our theoretical framework can be applied in practice by highlighting existing empirical examples from related environmental governance contexts. Further extension of our hypotheses, particularly as more data become available, can ultimately help guide the design of institutional arrangements more effective at dealing with change.

Keywords: adaptation, transformation, social-ecological systems, social network, social-ecological network, adaptive capacity

JEL Classification: Q01, Q34, Q38, Q54, Z10

Suggested Citation

Barnes, Michele and Bodin, Örjan and Guerrero, Angela and Mcallister, Ryan and Alexander, Steven and Robins, Garry, Theorizing the Social Structural Foundations of Adaptation and Transformation in Social-Ecological Systems (March 13, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2932575 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2932575

Michele Barnes (Contact Author)

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University ( email )

Townsville, Queensland 4811
Australia

University of Hawaii at Manoa ( email )

2500 Campus Road
Honolulu, HI NA 96822
United States

Örjan Bodin

Stockholm University - Stockholm Resilience Center ( email )

Kräftriket 2B
Stockholm, SE-114 19
Sweden

Angela Guerrero

University of Queensland ( email )

St Lucia
Brisbane, Queensland 4072
Australia

Ryan Mcallister

Government of the Commonwealth of Australia - CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) ( email )

41 Boggo Rd
Dutton Park, Queensland
Australia

Steven Alexander

Stockholm University - Stockholm Resilience Center ( email )

Kräftriket 2B
Stockholm, SE-114 19
Sweden

University of Maryland - National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center ( email )

College Park
College Park, MD 20742
United States

Garry Robins

University of Melbourne ( email )

185 Pelham Street
Carlton, Victoria 3053
Australia

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