Comparing Panarchy and Pace Layering

On the EcoTrust web magazine People and Place Howard Silverman compares Stewart Brand‘s concept of Pace Layering with Panarchy in Panarchy and Pace in the Big Back Loop:

“The back loop is the time of the Long Now,” writes Resilience Alliance founder Buzz Holling. It is a time “when each of us must become aware that he or she is a participant.”

“The trick is to treat the last ten thousand years as if it were last week, and the next ten thousand as if it were next week,” advises Stewart Brand in The Clock of the Long Now. “Such tricks confer advantage.”

Though Brand’s book precedes Holling’s “Complex Worlds” paper, their dialog runs pretty much like that. And the discussion turns on a pair of interrelated metaphors: panarchy and pace layering.

Mapping Metaphors
Holling and colleagues represent a familiar pattern of growth, conservation, release and renewal in the model of the adaptive cycle. A layering of adaptive cycles becomes a panarchy. The panarchy represents evolving interactions across ecological and social scales of time and space from, say, the pine cone to the forest to the forest products company.

Brand’s metaphor is pace layering, “the working structure of a robust and adaptable civilization.” Organized fast to slow, the layers are: fashion, commerce, infrastructure, governance, culture, and nature. With a nod to Holling, Brand writes, “The combination of fast and slow components makes the system resilient.”

What can we learn by mapping pace against panarchy? Picture a stack of adaptive cycles, with frantic fashion at the bottom, and nature’s biophysical processes, broad and slow, at the top. Reaching from each cyclic layer down to the next is an arrow labeled “remember,” for memory is an important influence that slower cycles exert on faster ones. And stretching from each cycle up to the next is the arrow “revolt,” representing the actions that, in the time of the back loop – of release and subsequent renewal – can enact structural shifts in the cycles above.

Thanks to Buzz Holling for the pointer.

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