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Exploring adaptability through learning layers and learning loops
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Political Science.
2010 (English)In: Environmental Education Research, ISSN 1350-4622, E-ISSN 1469-5871, Vol. 16, no 5, 529-543 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Adaptability in social-ecological systems results from individual and collective action, and multi-level interactions. It can be understood in a dual sense as a system's ability to adapt to disturbance and change, and to navigate system transformation. Inherent in this conception, as found in resilience thinking, are the concepts of learning and governance. Without learning, or unlearning, neither adaptation nor transformation is possible, and without governance we neither collectively act on nor institutionally embed learning experiences. This paper provides an attempt at synthesising and structuring this conceptual mapping and understanding of adaptability by adding insights from governance theory and using learning layers and learning loops as bridging concepts. As the overview demonstrates, the resilience-learning-governance interface provides some fruitful insights for the conceptual and theoretical understanding of adaptability, adaptation and transformation in resilience theory. Whereas resilience answers to why the adaptation-transformation distinction is important in the first place, learning provides the necessary link between the individual and system level, while governance brings further insights into the different potential mechanisms available for institutionally implementing adaptation and transformation. This exploration points to the need to develop a framework for understanding adaptability that: (1) identifies social-ecological systems in terms of structure, process and outcome, and particularly self-reinforcing feedbacks; (2) adds an institutional framework including formal and informal decision-making arenas; (3) explicitly addresses norms, values and ideas; (4) emphasises power, negotiation and facilitation; and (5) emphasises the importance of deliberate learning and transformation strategies.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2010. Vol. 16, no 5, 529-543 p.
Keyword [en]
adaptability, adaptation, transformation, governance, multi-level learning, multiple-loop learning, resilience, environmental education
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-38113DOI: 10.1080/13504622.2010.505429ISI: 000283318900005OAI: diva2:372319
Available from: 2010-11-25 Created: 2010-11-25 Last updated: 2014-04-17Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Challenging Adaptability: Analysing the Governance of Reindeer Husbandry in Sweden
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Challenging Adaptability: Analysing the Governance of Reindeer Husbandry in Sweden
2014 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

We live in a complex, interconnected and constantly changing world. Human driven global climate change is now a local reality that reinforces the inherent need for adaptability in human systems. Adaptability, the capacity to adapt to disturbance and change and navigate system transformation, can be understood as a function of socio-political interactions. The capacity of governing systems to deal with novel challenges through novel forms of interaction is a key issue in the governance literature, but which is only beginning to be explored. We therefore know little of how global change will impact the local level and how institutions and governing systems will respond.

The need for adaptability is likely to be more pronounced for tightly coupled human-environmental systems. Indigenous and natural resource dependent communities in general, and in the Northern hemisphere in particular, are among the most exposed to ongoing and projected climate change. In Sweden, reindeer husbandry is an Indigenous Sami livelihood and extensive land-use practice highly exposed to weather conditions and increasing competition over land and resources. Whereas herders struggle to deal with the challenges that now confront them, the practice is also known as resilient and sustainable, having withstood large-scale social, ecological and economic change before.

The aim with this thesis is to explore adaptability from a governancetheoretical perspective in the case of Sami reindeer husbandry in Sweden. The thesis thereby contributes to the emerging literatures on governance and adaptability and addresses empirically identified needs.

Theoretically, the thesis draws on Kooiman’s interactive governance framework, which offers a multidimensional approach to governance analysis where structural aspects are addressed through modes (self-, coand hierarchical governing) and intentional aspects through governing elements (images, instruments and action). While conceptually encompassing, the framework has rarely been employed in empirical analyses. In advancing an operationalisation of the framework based on governing orders (operational, institutional and meta-order), the thesis thereby makes a theoretical contribution.

Designed as a qualitative case study, the thesis explores how reindeer husbandry is governed and how governing has changed over time (institutional and meta-order); how the governing system restricts or facilitates adaptation and transformation (operational order); and how a governance-theoretical perspective can contribute to our understanding of adaptability. Methods include document analysis, focus groups, interviews and participatory observation. Studies focussing the operational order have been conducted in collaboration with Vilhelmina North reindeer herding community in Västerbotten county, Sweden.

The results show that only marginal change has occurred over time and state actors still dominate governing interactions. The governing system is riddled with inconsistencies among governing elements and particularly problematic is the lack of coherence between different meta-order images and between different actors. This gives rise to divergent and conflicting views as to ‘what’ the system of reindeer husbandry is and explains some of the observed governing inaction and limited problem-solving capacity of the governing system. Herders are currently highly restricted in their opportunities for adaptation and transformation and the governing system therefore acts restricting rather than facilitating on adaptability. By adopting a governance-theoretical approach, adaptability as a system quality has been decomposed and challenged and the important role of governing images and power in determining adaptability has been highlighted. It has called attention to questions such as who is forced to adapt, how images and governing interactions are constructed, and how different socio-political actors can exercise influence over the governing system and interactions taking place therein.

The thesis calls for more critical and empirical research on adaptability and argues that future studies need to situate and balance adaptability against other fundamental values and rights. In the case of reindeer husbandry, efforts are needed to create a better internal fit between governing elements as well as between involved socio-political actors. This could enable more equal governing interactions with other land-users and thereby contribute to mitigating conflicts as well as increasing adaptability.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå universitet, 2014. 89 p.
Statsvetenskapliga institutionens skriftserie, ISSN 0349-0831 ; 2014:1
adaptability, adaptation, climate change, governance, Indigenous, interactive governance, reindeer herding, reindeer husbandry, Sami, transformation
National Category
Political Science
Research subject
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-87976 (URN)978-91-7601-045-7 (ISBN)
Public defence
2014-05-16, Samhällsvetarhuset, Lindellhallen, Hörsal B, Umeå universitet, Umeå, 13:15 (English)
Available from: 2014-04-25 Created: 2014-04-16 Last updated: 2014-05-06Bibliographically approved

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