Who are we and how do we hang out?

Yesterday at the PECS2015 conference we joined a great session with “young” scholars to reflect on who we are as a community of researchers and how we do what we do. SAPECS scholars Vanessa, Jessica and Odi convened it and we focused on three key questions: 1) What is our identity as SES researchers? 2) What are the challenges we experience in applying suitable tools and approaches for place-based, transdisciplinary research? and 3) How do we build a career as SES researchers? We addressed these questions through a debate, speed talks on place-based case studies, and a panel discussion with some of the “elders” of our community.

In reflecting on our CS9hfufWUAA-ZyCidentity as social-ecological researchers we considered what name to give our community. This was done as a roleplay of a community, which had been forced to adopt a new name. Marika Haeggman was our elected Mayor who facilitated the debate. The proposed name was Sustainable Transdisciplinary Resilience Ecosystem Science for Society, needless to say the acronym is STRESS! These were the reactions from the extended community:

The discussion seemed to indicate that the participants preferred to remain unnamed and have a more open identity. The openness that such an identity brings is both challenging, but also allows for creativity in how we do our research. One of the speakers, Johan Enqvist said that we might be more defined by the questions we ask and the issues we address, than our methods and disciplinary backgrounds. Caroline Schill reflected that interdisciplinary research can sometimes feel like walking a tightrope: on the one side we need to dare to be unconventional in our methods, on the other hand we need to be aware of the “disciplined” way of doing things if we want to publish our work in a certain field. One of the wise panelists, Joshua Lewis, shared his experiences of fitting into different disciplinary homes during his career and learning to adapt his language depending on the norm of each institution. Joana Carlos Bezerra stated that instead of being in a place where everyone does what she does, she would rather find a space where you are allowed to do what you want to do, how you want to do it.

The ethical dilemmas we face in engaged place-based emerged as an important discussion point. Vanessa Masterson shared an interesting insight from her work in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, where she faced a dilemma in providing honest (critical) feedback to the community, which may jeopardize the relationship of trust she built with them during her research. How do we meet the expectations of the local communities we work with? Another panelist, Tom Chaigneau, proposed that instead of disseminating our findings, which are often complex, we could throw a party for the research participants! Shauna Mahajan raised another ethical conundrum: she faced difficulties in maintaining neutrality when encountering gatekeepers in her research in Kenya.

Alta de Vos’s final CS9hgcoXAAAa_CW_002word was that she takes with her how supported she has been. There is a lot of support out there that we definitely should seek out when we are doing this type of high-stakes, tightrope-dancing research! However, it is not only the students who need to prepare for this; we also need to build institutional capacity in training and create spaces and cultures that encourage reflection.

Get involved in our emerging community of practice to reflect more on how we do research, share tips, and connect with each other: join our list serve by e-mailing social-ecological-systems-scholars@googlegroups.com.

@jess_cockburn & @MySellberg

How do we do this?!?

Morning coffeeYesterday we had great discussions with a group of about 30 early career scholars at a learning event by SAPECS on participatory action research in social-ecological systems, facilitated by Christo Fabricius. Basically it was about how we engage in a meaningful way in our research with other people in society. I quickly realized that participants were interested in a wide range of engagement, both facilitating participatory processes and reporting back research results to communities, for example, and in lots of different contexts.

I really enjoy having those pre-meetings with a smaller group of people – now there are lots of familiar faces to chat more with during the conference! Here are some reflections from one of the organizers, Odirilwe Selomane, on why these types of events are useful:

A recurrent theme was the need to have time to connect with people outside academia, build relationships and build trust. Time to actually listen to the needs of communities. But the emphasis on time also brought up a challenge: how to find time during your PhD to both engage in a meaningful way with stakeholders and write high-quality scientific papers? Check out Jessica Cockburn’s discussion with Professor Karen Esler about this:

As Karen mentioned, a strategy to deal with this tension is to make transdisciplinary research a team effort and not an individual endeavor. Your own research can be part of a bigger project that is already established, where some of that time-consuming trust-building already has been done. Another strategy was to connect with partners outside the university that can facilitate the participatory process. From this discussion I’m more hopeful that there are ways to work this out in the current system, but in the longer-term I think there is a need to question the major incentive on researchers to allocate most their time on producing scientific publications.

I’m also asking myself how I have dealt with this issue so far? For one of the municipalities that we are collaborating with (Sellberg et al. 2015), it certainly helps that we have worked together since 2011, we already have built a lot of trust and got to know each other, and that the key people at the municipality driving the project really have an own interest in engaging with new research.




Prepping for PECS

We landed in beautiful Cape Town, ‘The Mother City’, and the air is filled with excitement of all the social-ecological system discussions to come. Our preparations for PECS have so far included exploring Old Biscuit Mill market, visiting the resident penguins of Boulders Beach, taking in the views from Cape Point, and experiencing the best of Bree and Long Street.

Today and tomorrow we will change residencies to Stellenbosch and dive deeper into the conference mode. My will participate in the pre-conference SAPECS learning event on participatory action research in social-ecological systems. We will give a report back tomorrow on all the most interesting ideas and opportunities that came up.

The main event kicks off with welcome drinks and snacks on Monday to set the stage for the coming days of science, socializing and Spier wine. It will be fun to see who is here and start to get to know new people and catch up with some familiar faces.

We are both checking out the program to try and decide our schedules for the coming days. The young scholars’ session on Wednesday, ‘’What does it mean to be a place-based social-ecological systems researcher?’’, should be a highlight. We also know that the conversations outside the sessions will be just as important. It is going to be a busy few days. We are already looking forward to the relaxing walks around Spier to digest it all!

Twitter: @MySellberg & @meganmeacham

PhDs at PECS 2015

Hi Everyone,

Megan MeachamIt is My Sellberg and Megan Meacham here to introduce ourselves to you and kick off a series of blog posts dedicated to PECS 2015! PECS 2015 is a scientific conference focused on the social ecological dynamics of the anthropocene, hosted by the Programme on ecosystem change and society (PECS) in Stellenbosch, South Africa the 3rd – 5th November, 2015.

My SellbergWe are both PhD students at the Stockholm Resilience Centre as well as one half of the dream team that makes up the PECS International program office. Megan’s PhD work focuses on the dynamics of multiple ecosystem services and My’s PhD engages with the development and practice of resilience assessment.

We will be among the waves of social ecological systems scholars descending upon South Africa next week to join with the dynamic SES community based there. We are hoping for a week full of discussions, lively debates, provoking presentations, lots of fun, and of course a bit of wine.

We will use this space to share our perspectives on the conference and surrounding events as well as engage with other young and young-at-heart scholars. We hope that you will follow along as we depart the ever darker Stockholm and immerse ourselves in all the science and fun of sunny Stellenbosch and Cape Town.

Follow us on Twitter: @meganmeacham and @MySellberg

Reflections to “Time to Rei(g)n Back the Anthropocene?”

This is a short reflection to Andy Stirling’s recent post “Time to Rei(g)n Back the Anthropocene?”  about the Anthropocene, “planetary boundaries” and politics. Feel free to join the discussions in the comment field here, or at the STEPS-blog

First of all, I would like to thank Andy Stirling for getting this discussion started with a very thought provoking post. I would also like to point out that the opinions raised here are my own, and should in no way be viewed as an “official” Stockholm Resilience Centre reply: there are simply too many different perspectives of the issues raised in the blogpost at SRC, which means that I possibly can’t make them all justice in a quick reflection. So I write this in hope that others will join the discussion.

I agree with you that this indeed is an important discussion. What I still don’t understand however (and this is what I see as the key argument in the blog piece), is how the Anthropocene concept lays “the foundation for planetary geoengineering”, “planetary management”, or how it contributes to an “authoritarian control agenda”. This issue has been raised before (by Melissa Leach here, and Robyn Eckersley here), but I simply don’t buy into the argument. Allow me to elaborate briefly.


For some reason, the notion of “earth system governance” (ESG) is mentioned side by side with the term “planetary management”. This I believe, is an incorrect and very unfortunate conflation of the two terms. ESG is a research agenda – not a specific governance model – that brings together a very rich community of social scientists from a diversity of disciplines. ESG includes a number of important of research perspectives and projects exploring exactly the sort of critical questions that are raised in the blog post, including agency, accountability, allocation and access. In short, the ESG does not at all “confirm and elaborate what Anthropocene ambitions mean in practice”. Instead, the community shows the need to critically explore the messy and unavoidably political nature of governance at multiple levels of the Earth system. It does not endorse nor support simplistic notions of planetary “management” or “control”. The reference to “planetary management” is a link to Eckersley’s text, and provides no evidence that  Anthropocene scholars  (and there are many, many more than Paul Crutzen, John Schellnhuber and Johan Rockström!) have a preference for top-down or authoritarian modes of governance.

Maybe it’s the ESG-community’s strong emphasis on international institutions that creates such a space for misinterpretation, but surely we must be able to explore international institutional challenges in the Anthropocene without “laying the foundations” for an “authoritarian control agenda”?

Another example of why I don’t buy into the argument is the summary made of David Christian’s lecture on Big History during the Transformation 2015 conference in Stockholm.

Indeed, in another wonderfully animated talk just before Johan’s [Rockström, my addition] own, Australian scholar of ‘big history‘ David Christian outlined a very graphic fourteen billion year ‘origin story’ for the Universe as a whole. Deliberately presented as a creation myth, this reproduced the usual analytic-normative duality of all such narratives: diagnosing in the same theme as the prescription.

And this theme was, again, control: emphasising this time not only how the destiny of humanity, but the identity of life itself, can (and should) be seen in terms of ever-growing capacities to command information in order to control the external world. In this potent allegory, the advent of humans is suggested as a “threshold moment” not just for the Earth, but for the Universe more widely.

This is an interesting reflection, but this was not at all what I brought with me from Christian’s lecture (and this is actually the second time I hear this talk). If anything, “Big History” teaches us that many of the processes that shape the planet are truly emergent – sum of interacting forces with transformative effects, but with highly limited predictability and beyond simple “control”. The argument that increased information processing drives growth in biosphere and social complexity is – in my mind – not at all about control. On the contrary, it is an observation about how profoundly evolution and information are related (for en excellent and lengthy overview, see  Gleick’s book “The Information”).

There is also a very important issue about terminology here, and how different terms are interpreted. The blogpost mentions  “Anthropocene planetary boundaries as “control variables” – this is clearly mainly about control.” I’m not a systems scientist, but my layman understanding of a “control variable” is a variable that in important ways shapes the behavior of a system. One example would be incoming solar radiation and global temperature. Now, identifying/proposing a variable such as this does not imply that it is possible nor desirable to “control” it. In my example, it might be (and I would say even is) both impossible and undesirable to launch a major Solar Radiation Management scheme. So I might argue that X is a control variable for Y, without inevitably suggesting that X needs to be “controlled”, even though I might term it a “control variable”. Happy to hear some more informed reflections about this issue from others. However, “non-negotiable”, “absolutely no uncertainty”, and “no compromise” are terms that I personally would not use, so I would ask others to respond to that particular critique!

But you are making a very important point that I fully agree with. “Real political choices are being made, about how Sustainability is to be interpreted, the directions in which it is going – and the kinds of futures to which it might lead.” We (STEPS, SRC and others) have important responsibilities in this regard.  I’m very happy that we are able to discuss issues such as these  in an open, and constructive way. I worry however that claims about ‘the Anthropocene’ always contributing to an “authoritarian control agenda” not only is an unfair summary of the immensely rich governance debate emerging in different parts of the world. It also risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Let’s bring more nuances and voices to this important discussion.

Harder, Faster, Stronger – How Financial Markets are Shaping the Biosphere

Should ecologists and sustainability scientists care about financial markets? The answer is a loud and resounding “yes”, and I’m delighted to finally be able to share our latest article published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution yesterday, co-authored with colleagues Johan Gars, Fredrik Moberg, Björn Nykvist and Cecilia Repinski.

The article not only shows how financial systems connect to social ecological change at the global scale. It also shows the ultra-speed by which financial information flows through international commodity markets, often supported by sophisticated trading algorithms (Figure 1 below). Bluntly put: financial systems have a harder, faster, and stronger – and not necessarily better (for those familiar with the Daft Punk song) – impact on social-ecological connections in the Anthropocene than previously understood.

Figure 1. Algorithmic trade with commodity derivatives

Figure 1. Map showing the world’s 20 largest commodity derivatives markets, denoted with their official acronyms (KCBT = The Kansas City Board of Trade; ROFEX = The Rosario Futures Exchange; etc). Symbols indicate the main commodity derivative traded, and the purple-colored circles show where indications of algorithmic trade have been found (blue circles = no indication of algorithmic trade). The graph in the lower right corner shows the rapid increase from year 2005 in the turnover of commodity futures contracts traded in organized exchanges. For details, see Galaz et al. 2015 in TREE

Debates about the “financialisation of nature” and the potential of divestment from fossil fuels  is not new of course. Our article broadens these debates in two ways as I see it.

One is that it challenges recent arguments about the lack of “intercontinental connectivity” between ecosystems across the world put forward by Brook and colleagues in TREE in 2013 (see my previous critique here). As others have explored already, globalization has created a number of “telecouplings” across the planet (e.g. Liu and colleagues), often through trade flows. We show for the first time, that intercontinental connectivity between ecosystems also increasing unfolds through financial flows, financial innovation and associated technologies (illustrated in Figure 2 from McKinsey Global Institute (2014) .

Figure 2. Global Financial Flows, 2002 vs. 2012. Picture from McKinsey Global Institute (2014). Global flows in a digital age: How trade, finance, people, and data connect the world economy (pp. 12).

The second contribution I believe, is that we take a closer look at what normally (and sometimes too vaguely) is referred to as “Wall Street” (like here) or the “financialisation of nature” (e.g. here). These are valid and important contributions, but only give us a first glimpse of the complexities and dynamics of global financial systems and capital flows.

Put bluntly: “Wall Street” is not an amorphous “black box” system  – it consists of financial actors such as investment banks and hedge funds; instruments such as commodity derivatives; and technologies such as algorithmic trading. Understanding how financial connectivity evolves in the Anthropocene should include more than general criticisms against financial systems. It should also try to map how these actors, their relations, and associated capital flows shape the biosphere.

What happens in Wall Street and other international financial centers matters. Hopefully our article provides a first step in opening the financial “black box”.

Remapping Chimborazo’s vegetation 200 years after Humboldt

Alexander von Humboldt was one of the founders of biogeography and ecology.  He had an a crazy upbringing and strange life, but his integrative view of nature and focus on precise measurements had a strong impact on Science.

In 1802, Alexander von Humboldt mapped the distribution of plants and vegetation on the Chimborazo volcano in Ecuador.

Physical Geography. Humboldt’s Distribution of Plants in Equinoctial America, According to Elevation Above the Level of the Sea. 1839.

Physical Geography. Humboldt’s Distribution of Plants in Equinoctial America, According to Elevation Above the Level of the Sea. 1839.

In a new paper in PNAS by Naia Morueta-Holme and others explain how they resurveyed Mt. Chimborazo in 2012, 200 years after Humbodlt’s visit, to discover and map what changes had occurred.  Their paper includes a fantastic updated version of Humboldt’s map, which supports “Humboldt’s proposal that climate is the primary control on the altitudinal distribution of vegetation”.

An update of Humboldt’s Tableau. Shown is a summary of major changes in overall vegetation limit, average glacier limit, and shifts in topmost vegetation regions on Chimborazo from 1802 to 2012. The major drivers of change, climate, and land use change are represented by the bars to the right: a constant impact of climate change—in particular, increased temperature—the stronger relative impact of land use at the lower sites, mainly through in- tensified agriculture, and the effect of grass harvesting and local burning. Illustration of glaciers is approximate.

An update of Humboldt’s Tableau. Shown is a summary of major changes in overall vegetation limit, average glacier limit, and shifts in topmost vegetation regions on Chimborazo from 1802 to 2012. The major drivers of change, climate, and land use change are represented by the bars to the right: a constant impact of climate change—in particular, increased temperature—the stronger relative impact of land use at the lower sites, mainly through in- tensified agriculture, and the effect of grass harvesting and local burning. Illustration of glaciers is approximate.



Seeds of a Good Anthropocene

My colleagues and I are running an international scientific synthesis experiment that aims to collect example of projects, productions, or initiatives that people believe are examples of “seeds of a good anthropocene.”

For more information on our project see our website: http://goodanthropocenes.net/ 

There are many projects that have documented human inequality and damage that people are doing to the Earth.  We are collecting examples that people think are best at moving the world in a better direction.

What are looking for are existing initiatives that people think are excellent embodiments of the values, processes,  or ways of living that could help produce a better world.  A world which is children have a fair chance at a good life, is prosperous, and is enhancing rather than simplifying the biosphere and world that is full of life, fun, and hope.

Please share your ideas with us on our website.  We have a questionnaire that requires an intermediate amount of knowledge on the project and takes 5-15 min to complete.

Why Seeds?

‘Pluralisms-a-plenty’: engaging with the social world in social-ecological systems research

A reflection on challenges and opportunities of dealing with multiple kinds of pluralisms in doing SES research (e.g. ontologies, epistemologies, theories, methodologies), particularly from an early career scholar perspective.

Guest post by:

  • James Patterson, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Waterloo
  • Jessica Cockburn, PhD Candidate, Rhodes University
  • Vanessa Masterson, PhD Candidate, Stockholm Resilience Centre
  • Simon West, PhD Candidate, Stockholm Resilience Centre
  • Jamila Haider, PhD Candidate, Stockholm Resilience Centre
  • Marta Berbes, PhD, York University

Social-ecological systems (SES) research is increasingly engaging with the socialscience domain. For example, this is reflected in growing SES literature working with political ecology, adaptive governance, and collective action perspectives. Scholars are also increasingly drawing on rich bodies of literature from various social science disciplines that have developed over many decades, yet until recently remained largely unconnected with resilience thinking, such as political science, sociology, and critical theory. Critiques persist about the extent to which resilience thinking suitably engages with social science theories and insights (e.g., Cote and Nightingale 2012, Olsson et al. 2015, see also West et al. 2015). Although much more work is required in this area, research conducted from social science perspectives is increasingly making its way into SES discourse, at least as reflected in some of the main journals of the SES research community. More broadly, SES research has opened opportunities and frontiers for inter- and transdisciplinary research which may previously not have been as apparent (e.g. Stone-Jovicich 2015, Fischer et al. 2015). Further, it appears that the SES and resilience research community is beginning to engage more critically and reflectively with the challenges of working at the interface of the natural and social sciences.

Early career scholars have been key contributors to the increasing sophistication with which resilience thinking engages with social science theories and insights. Early career scholars have embraced, challenged, critiqued, and pushed the boundaries of resilience thinking. They have built on the tremendous opportunity created by early resilience scholars who brought attention to the key need to understand and respond to dynamics and linkages between social and ecological systems. This included the difficult work of fighting against disciplinary boundaries and opening up a well-funded and successful research arena. This was a critical first step in opening up new ways of thinking and practicing problem-based science that have since flourished. Early career scholars have actively taken on the challenges that this initial ‘opening up’ has produced and as a result are contributing in many exciting ways to extending and broadening resilience thinking.

Despite the dynamism and ongoing development of resilience thinking, there have been valid criticisms raised about the extent to which resilience thinking may connect with and be compatible with social science theories and insights. For example, rich traditions of understanding the social world through fundamentally social science concepts and tools such as agency, institutions and institutional change, politics, power, knowledge and culture have largely remained untapped, and to some extent, unacknowledged. Where these concepts are mentioned in SES research, it is at times done fleetingly, and there is a need for SES and resilience scholars to engage more deeply with social theories which can be used to frame such research. This has led to robust critiques of resilience thinking. Sometimes these critiques are levelled at particular heuristics, terms, and concepts but this critique may mis-characterise or simplify the diversity of the broader field of scholarship. However, valid points are also raised about the need for resilience scholars to engage more deeply with wider existing bodies of literature that we have a lot to learn from.

A key way in which resilience thinking could continue to mature is by bringing greater critical reflexivity to our own research choices and the ‘lenses’ through which we interpret the world. The need for reflexivity becomes particularly apparent when we start engaging with the plethora of social science theories, insights and disciplines that are salient to resilience thinking and SES research. A fundamental challenge that engagement with the breadth and diversity of social science raises is that there are many valid ontologies for knowing reality, and many ways of investigating and understanding this reality to produce knowledge (epistemology). This becomes especially salient for research in the social domain. Which aspects of the social world matter to us and which ones don’t? How do we know what we know? How do we investigate complex and sometimes unknowable social phenomena? This point is put eloquently by Dryzek when he states that:

While real problems exist, our interaction with them can only ever be through culturally constructed lens – meaning that we can never know nature, except through the interpretive mechanism of culture, which means all perspectives are partial and contestable (Dryzek, 1997: 10).

These issues are especially confounding when working at the interface of the ‘social’ and ‘ecological’ worlds as we do in resilience and SES research. As a result, we need to recognise fundamental challenges regarding ontology, epistemology, theory, and methodology. Ontological commitments involve choices about what we see as ‘existing’ in the world (e.g., people, social actors, values, cultures, producers, consumers, motivations, texts, discourses, morality, rules, social relations, feedbacks) (following Mason 2002). Epistemological commitments are about what knowledge counts in our work and how this can be demonstrated (e.g., whether or not it is possible to discover objective ‘truth’). Theoretical lenses are important because they frame how we see and interpret the situation we’re looking at (e.g., a critique of resilience thinking has been the arguably inappropriate application of some ecological concepts to social systems). Methodological choices are important because they are our way of exploring and constructing knowledge about a situation, and different approaches in the same situation can lead to different insights. Navigating these multiple pluralisms requires particular skills and competencies, which ought to be considered in the education and training of emerging scholars in SES and resilience research and practice.

More broadly, the choices we make if looking at either the social or ecological world will probably be very different. That is, if one were working with an exclusively natural science research question, or a particular social science research question, the discipline and tradition within which one would find oneself would strongly shape epistemological commitments and methodological choices. However, in working at the interface of the social and ecological worlds, and recognising their intrinsic interconnectedness, we need to be especially conscious of these choices because we can be pulled in different directions. In SES research, we are no longer working on a solely natural research object, or a solely social research object, but on a new cross-cutting research object. This requires not only new and innovative approaches, but also that researchers are reflective and critical in our choice of tools and approaches. Without being deeply aware and reflective on the choices and commitments we make on these topics we risk falling into the trap of taking particular interpretations for granted, and ‘reifying’ a fixed view of how social-ecological systems operate which can constrain new possibilities for inquiry and insight (following Ison 2010).

So what should be done?

As an important first step in exploring these new frontiers, we need to be conscious of such challenges and critically aware of our choices. We also need to critically examine which ways of knowing, exploring and testing are suitable for asking and answering different kinds of questions in SES research. Resilience thinking owes a lot of its foundations to (post) positivist natural science and economics and the innovative thinking of these pioneers, who did not need to engage with the diversity of ontologies and epistemologies of social science. Perhaps now is the time for a systematic exploration of these ontologies and epistemologies and their compatibility with resilience approaches. Which ontologies, epistemologies, theories, and methodologies are compatible with notions of complex adaptive systems, resilience, and SESs?

Consequently, we need to be especially mindful of the various commitments and choices we make when a plurality of options is on the table: ontologically, epistemologically, theoretically, and methodologically. Recent publications exploring the interface of social and ecological research in SESs call for pluralism in methodologies (e.g. Olsson et al 2015, Fischer et al. 2015). However, we must also guard against cooking up “a tasteless soup of pluralisms”, and of combining theories and methodologies which may have underlying ontologies and epistemologies that are incompatible with one another. This means engaging meaningfully with the ontological and epistemological underpinnings of our work, to ensure that we combine multiple ways of knowing and doing in coherent ways. Particularly for scholars who are traditionally trained in the natural sciences, engaging deeply with the meta-philosophies underlying our research choices is a new endeavour, and one which may be overwhelming at times.  A counter challenge for critical social scientists on the other hand is to have more qualitative methods and knowledge systems validated by the broader SES research community.

The commitments and choices we make about ontologies, epistemologies, theories, and methodologies in our research shape how we see and work with social-ecological problems. They are not a ‘given’ (i.e., something that we can take for granted), nor are they objective and value-free scientific endeavours, but choices that need to be made consciously and reflexively (i.e., they may change over time as our own understanding changes). This adds a whole new set of challenges when engaging with the social world. But they are challenges that cannot be avoided and are indeed crucial for deepening the social dimensions of resilience thinking, and engaging in an ethical and honest way (to avoid ‘scientific imperialism’ (Olsson et al 2015)).

Resilience thinking and SES research is an enormous and ongoing collaborative endeavour. After all, it is a bold agenda to trigger a paradigm shift in society from a place of thinking linearly and about social and ecological domains as separate entities, to deeply recognising and engaging with dynamics, change, and linkages between social and ecological domains! However, if we are to collectively continue to work towards such a paradigm shift then we need to take on the challenge of engaging with the social world head-on. This will require critical reflexivity in our own research practice and deep reflection on issues of ontology, epistemology, theory, and methodology in our own work. Despite recent critique (Olsson et al. 2015) resilience thinking and social science are not irreconcilable, and we see current points of tension as research frontiers to be tackled rather than fundamental barriers. The ground is fertile and early career scholars are taking up the challenge.


  • Cote, M., Nightingale, A.J., 2011. Resilience thinking meets social theory: Situating change in socio-ecological systems (SES) research. Progress in Human Geography 36, 475–489.
  • Dryzek, J. 1997. The politics of the Earth: Environmental discourses. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Fischer, J., Gardner, T.A., Bennett, E.M., Balvanera, P., Biggs, R., Carpenter, S., Daw, T., Folke, C., Hill, R., Hughes, T.P., Luthe, T., Maass, M., Meacham, M., Norström, A.V., Peterson, G., Queiroz, C., Seppelt, R., Spierenburg, M., Tenhunen, J., 2015. Advancing sustainability through mainstreaming a social–ecological systems perspective. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 14, 144-149.
  • Ison, R.L., 2010. Systems practice: how to act in a climate-change world. Springer, London.
  • Mason, J., 2002. Qualitative Researching, 2nd ed. SAGE Publications Ltd, London, U.K.
  • Olsson, L., Jerneck, A., Thoren, H., Persson, J., O’Byrne, D. 2015. Why resilience is unappealing to social science: Theoretical and empirical investigations of the scientific use of resilience. Science Advances 1(4): 1-11. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1400217
  • Stone-Jovicich, S. 2015. Probing the interfaces between the social sciences and social-ecological resilience: insights from integrative and hybrid perspectives in the social sciences. Ecology and Society 20(2): 25. http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-07347-200225
  • West, S., Galafassi, D., Haider, J., Marin, A., Merrie, A., Ospina-Medina, D., Schill, C. 2015 “Critically reflecting on social-ecological systems research”, Resilience Science blog URL: http://rs.resalliance.org/2015/02/11/critically-reflecting-on-social-ecological-systems-research/