The evolution of socio-ecological systems

thatch san martin

This article investigates natural resource governance in three indigenous communities in the Colombian Amazon. We base our analysis on an evolutionary governance model in which governance dimensions emerge as relevant through time. The less accessible of the communities represents earlier steps in governance evolution, while the more physically accessible is more integrated into the western scene. We observe how increased physical accessibility in a community brings in western governance models which hybridize with more traditional ones, influencing the couplings between the social and ecological systems. We zoom in on changing management of three commonly used palm species and illustrate how detailed studies of natural resource management contribute to understanding governance evolution. By comparing governance evolutions we were able to gain insights and improve our understanding on how natural resource management changes in communities transiting into western ways of living. In doing so we recognized points of rigidity and flexibility which might influence the social ecological systems capacity to adapt to changing conditions.

Gruezmacher, M. & Van Assche, K. (2014) The evolution of socio-ecological systems: changing palm species management in the Colombian Amazon as an indicator of ecological and institutional change. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management.

Posted in Colombia | Tagged , , , ,

Evolutionary Governance Theory

The book Evolutionary Governance Theory: an Introduction is out. This book offers the reader a remarkable new perspective on the way markets, laws and societies evolve together. It can be of use to anyone interested in development, market and public sector reform, public administration, politics & law. Based on a wide variety of case studies on three continents and a variety of conceptual sources, the authors develop a theory that clarifies the nature and functioning of dependencies that mark governance evolutions. This in turn delineates in an entirely new manner the spaces open for policy experiment. As such, it offers a new mapping of the middle ground between libertarianism and social engineering. Theoretically, the approach draws on a wide array of sources: institutional & development economics, systems theories, post-structuralism, actor- network theories, planning theory and legal studies.

Posted in Uncategorized

Contested delineations: planning, law, and the governance of protected areas

Raoul Beunen, Kristof Van Assche

In this paper we reflect on the relationship between planning and law. We analyse the Dutch interpretation and implementation of the European Union Habitats and Birds Directives by investigating the practices of delineation of protected areas. These directives provide a legislative framework for the designation of protected sites as well as for decision making about social and economic activities that might have negative effects on the conservation objectives. The formal boundaries of the protected area can have legal, political, and economic consequences and are therefore the subject of much debate. Using Niklas Luhmann’s social systems theory, we analyse the debates concerning delineation and the potential for planning to reduce tensions and balance interests. It is argued that the irreducible differences between the economic, political, and legal perspectives, in combination with the Dutch path of a legalistic interpretation of EU directives, have produced a situation in which the role of planning is reduced and new forms of planning are hard to implement.

Keywords: planning, law, natural resource management, Natura 2000, autopoiesis

Environment and Planning A

Posted in Netherlands

Understanding contracts in evolving agro-economies: Fermers, dekhqans and networks in Khorezm, Uzbekistan

Utkur Djanibekov, Kristof Van Assche, Daan Boezeman, Nodir Djanibekov

We combine institutional economic perspectives and actor-network theory to elucidate the role of contracts in the evolution of transitional agricultural systems. Such combination of theories can shed a light on the mutual constitution of actors and institutions, and the formation of economic strategies. We argue that forms and functions of contracts can only be understood in an evolutionary context. In a case study of the Khorezm region, Uzbekistan, where several waves of reform created two principal actors – commercial farms (calledfermers locally) responsible for state-ordered production and semi-subsistence smallholders (calleddekhqans locally) – it is demonstrated how in the self-transformation of the actor-network, and thus the shifts in forms and roles of contracts, several network features play a role: interdependencies between the actors, the essential actant of the irrigation and drainage system, formal/informal dialectics. Time horizons, risk/benefit calculations, trust and cooperation forms emerge in the self-reproducing network and leave space for certain contractual forms and functions.

Journal of Rural Studies

Posted in Uzbekistan

Social learning and innovation

Kristof Van Assche, Raoul Beunen, Jeff Holm & Ming Lo

In this article we reflect on the evolution of ice-fishing practices at Mille Lacs. Social learning took place largely outside the sphere of government and spurred substantial technological and institutional innovation. The study elaborates on the way in which unique patterns of networks, informal institutions and social learning environments delineate options for social learning that are more likely to succeed, to lead to implementation. The history of social learning on lake Mille Lacs showed that new formal institutions are not necessarily the best sites for social learning, and that forms of innovation and modes of learning cannot be separated. Interdependence and shared goals, and flexibility in role distribution appear as success factors. The diversity of learning sites in a community should not be understood as a problem, as an obstacle to central steering and education by government: it enables the community to adapt and survive.

The article can be found on the website of Land Use Policy

Posted in USA

The good, the bad and the self-referential: heritage planning and the productivity of difference

Heritage planning, as an integrated approach to dealing with traces of the past in the ongoing organisation of the landscape, must be a trans-disciplinary endeavour. Bridging differences between scientific disciplines, as well as sciences and the law, administration, politics and economy, is a continuous challenge. We argue that Niklas Luhmann’s social systems theory, with its sophisticated understanding of society as an evolving population of social systems, is very useful in understanding the value and difficulty of trespassing boundaries in heritage planning, and in understanding the value of conflict and cultivated difference in the planning process.

We reflect on the mechanisms of self-reference and self-reproduction that are at play within the scientific disciplines addressing ‘heritage’, and analyse similar mechanisms within planning administrations. These mechanisms are not in essence negative; they are necessary for the production of the kind of knowledge that is specific for the system or organisation. However, in planning, some form of coordination of interests and types of knowledge is seen as desirable. We argue for an approach to heritage planning that avoids self-reference in the planning system as a whole, while accepting and cherishing the self-reference of the actors. (LINK)

Posted in Uncategorized

Formal/Informal Dialectics and the Self-Transformation of Spatial Planning Systems: An Exploration

Kristof Van Assche, Raoul Beunen & Martijn Duineveld

In this article, we present a perspective on the interaction between formal and informal institutions in spatial planning in which they transform each other continuously, in processes that can be described and analyzed as ongoing reinterpretations. The effects of configurations and dialectics are often ambiguous, only partially observable, different in different domains and at different times. By means of analyses of key concepts in planning theory and practice, this perspective is illustrated and developed. Finally, we analyze transformation options in planning systems, emphasizing the limits of formal institutions in transforming formal/informal configurations, and stressing the importance of judgment and conflict.

Published in Administration & Society

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