All posts by Henrik Ernstson

Henrik Ernstson is an interdisciplinary scholar who focuses on how biophysical, cultural and political dimensions are fused together in 'urban nature' or 'urban ecology'. This leaves the question of 'who is an expert' on urban ecology radically open. He has a background in Physics and Systems Ecology, but writes primarily on the management and politics of urban ecology and is interested in the possibilities for more equal and democratic city-making. He has worked in Cape Town and Stockholm and leads two research projects between the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town and the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University. See his blog at

NASEBERRY and 2-mode network analysis of a dynamic co-management process

A network approach to understand co-management, governance and complex social-ecological systems is becoming part of the toolbox used by researchers in our field, now recently in an article by Marín and Berkes (see below). A bunch of us is trying to form a community of researchers to exchange ideas on how to use network analysis in social-ecological studies and to join our NASEBERRY group, you can mail me (Henrik Ernstson, henrik(at)

Andrés Marín and Fikret Berkes uses a 2-mode social network approach in their recent article entitled “Network approach for understanding small-scale fisheries governance“. They make the argument that many studies up until now have focussed on collaborative ties, which might miss how conflicts could drive the structuration of social networks:

[S]tudying only collaborative (or facilitating) relationships may show an incomplete representation of co-management. In the Chilean case, co-management appeared as a dynamic equilibrium between opposing forces: facilitation or collaboration and hindrance or conflict. The existence of conflict and power disputes should not be seen as blocking the functioning of the system but as a driver of change and adaptation [1]

NASEBERRY – A community would be great to have

Within the field of social-ecological network studies, several other studies are on their way in both marine, terrestrial and urban ecosystems. Further, at the upcoming international conference on social network analysis (SUNBELT) there is a special session on network analysis and natural resource management (June 2010), and several of us are participating in a book project led by Örjan Bodin and Christina Prell to further develop this field.

It is clear that several reserach groups are forming at various universities in the world, and at all continents. We hope our NASEBERRY group could be a good forum for many others to exchange exciting ideas. The name originates from “Network Analysis in Social-Ecological Studies” but has further borrowed its name from a long-lived evergreen tree growing in the Caribbean. The group include scholars that strive to advance both social, ecological and social-ecological network analysis in social-ecological studies. If you would like to join, please contact me Henrik Ernstson (henrik(at)

Naseberry tree<br />

Stay cool. Stay networked. Stay in the (naseberry)tree!


PS. Marín A, Berkes F. (2010; in press) Network approach for understanding small-scale fisheries governance: The case of the Chilean coastal co-management. Marine Policy. doi:10.1016/j.marpol.2010.01.007
[1] With reference to: Armitage et al 2007: Adaptive co-management. Univ Brit Col Press.

Undermine Nature/Culture dichotomy – Bruno Latour visits Stockholm

As you might know, some of us at the Stockholm Resilience Centre are quite inspired by actor-network theory (ANT), an “infralanguage” to help us undermine the Nature/Culture (or Social/Ecological) dichotomy; a dichotomy that has divided academia for a long time, but which interdisciplinary institutes like SRC is trying to overcome. One of the key developers of ANT is coming to Stockholm, Bruno Latour, to give a lecture at the Nobel Museum entitled: “May Nature Be Recomposed? A Few Questions of Cosmopolitics” (The Neale Wheeler Watson lecture, Tuesday, 16-18).

Bruno Latour<br />

In many ways, ANT is ‘a way of writing’ academic (ethnographic) accounts so as to treat humans and non-humans (including species, water currents, machines, documents etc.) in similar ways. A classic study is that of Callon (1986), in which a bunch of marine biologists strive to save the population of scallops by introducing controlled scallop production mobilizing both fishers, scallops, technology, and water currents (but they ultimately fails…).

In my own study of how a large green area of Stockholm got protected (and thus influenced the urban ecology of Stockholm), ANT inspired me to acknowledge that it was not only civil society activists that played a great role in managing to protect this green area, but also maps, buildings and species that got ‘enrolled’ into a protective story (Ernstson and Sörlin 2009). Others have used this in similar ways (e.g. Eden et al 1999). I believe more can certainly be done as we engage with this “infralanguage” (for instance how to understand the “politics of scale” in transformative change towards ecosystem management).

In his lecture, Bruno Latour will talk about “cosmopolitics”. Most people would associate this term with that of being an internationalist, somebody with backgrounds in a lot places and nations, and with an open attitude to different cultures and the formation of new collectives. However, I suspect the talk will be about other types of collectives, those that stretch over the Nature/Culture divide, and that even prove that this divide is nothing more than an illusion (although a powerful illusion indeed).

An intrerpretation of what Latour and others (especially Isabelle Stengers, Cosmopolitiques, vol. 1) understand as cosmopolitics is a “politics of the cosmos” that leads to the recognition of new “collectives”, a recognition that humans and non-humans are entangled and that we (the collective) need to respect this entanglement in order to live our lives. In our field of reserach, this idea has partly been captured in the concept “ecosystem services” (although in a more economistic fashion, see argument of a “social production of ecosystem services”; Ernstson, H., 2008, In Rhizomia. PhD Dissertation.Stockholm University, Stockholm.). Funny enough, and inspired by British geographers (Hinchcliffe, Whatmore et al 2005), I held series of lectures and a workshop with art and design students at the Stockholm School of Art and Design (Konstfack) on “Cosmopolitical Experiments“, i.e. how can designs evoke a sense of recognizing our entanglement with these other-than-human citizens that share our planet.

To SRC and the broader field of social-ecological studies, ANT and similar attempts to undermine long held dichotomies that constrains our thoughts, methods and theories, are exciting to explore and engage.

PS. The lecture at Nobel Museum will be broadcasted after the lecture on Tuesday, 16-18.

Cochabamba picking up after Copenhagen

The Bolivian city of Cochabamba will host what is called “The Peoples’ Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth” writes Sarah van Gelder in YES! Magazine.

Once a pivotal popular struggle arena against water privatization (see e.g. here and here) the city of Cochabamba is now hosting what is reported as a new kind of people-centred forum on climate change, supported by Bolivian president Evo Morales, who is joined by representatives of 50 governments.

Sarah van Gelder reports:

[The] Cochabamba [meeting] represents a new mindset with new players taking the lead: the activists who are stopping new coal plant construction; the towns and cities, businesses, faith groups, and farmers who are adopting sustainable practices; and each one of us who cuts back on driving, meat, and waste and works to “live well” where we are, without using up the life-giving capacities of our finite planet.


A concrete objective concerns the “climate debt”, as reported by Sarah van Gelder:

Participants at the Cochabamba summit will develop ways to measure the climate debt that the wealthy nations—where just 20 percent of the world’s population lives—owe the rest of the world for having emitted 75 percent of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Organizers are calling for binding agreements, with United Nation sanctions for those who fail to live up to their climate commitments.

Representatives of 50 governments will meet with ordinary people and social movement leaders from around the world in Cochabamba, Bolivia, to work on solutions to what may be the biggest threat ever faced by humankind.

Chile – destroyed and reorganizing

An earthquake and following tsunamis destroyed great parts of Chile, killing people, ripping apart families, and affecting infrastructure, business, politics, animals and ecological relations. This is my short report on thoughts and fears of the reorganization phase, based on following Chilean television and Swedish news flows.

The proportions of the destruction due to the tsunami that came 30 minutes after the earthquake are beginning to emerge as first journalists (2 days), and later aid workers and military forces are working their way down the southern cost of Chile (3 days) . The area of destruction seems very big, now spanning some 300-500 km. Many, many of the villages and tourist spots along the coast that in many ways define the sense of Chile as a country by the sea, are almost completely destroyed. I have attached a link from the national television of Chile.

A debate is arising criticizing the authorities for responding slowly. In fact, two days after the earthquake journalists were the first to arrive to these devastated villages. There are no proper water sources, food or electricity. Also, there is a debate concerning why there was not a proper warning of the tsunami from the Chilean military navy responsible for this task. People in the destroyed areas, being from a country that has experienced earthquakes and tsunamis before and having been trained in school, immediately ran to the hills, which could explain the low number of dead people; but still mourned every one. However, there are rumors that the Chilean Navy sent a faxed message to the national emergency organization which was not properly interpreted. Thirty minutes after the earthquake, eye witnesses have reported of a set of three tsunami waves, the first being some 4-5 meters in height, others claiming 8 metres, came rolling in, pushing some 2 km in land, moving boats, houses, and washing those humans not in safety with it.

What is interesting here is not resilience in itself. For sure, the Chilean society will reconstruct and start working in some way the weeks, months and years to come. In contrast to Haiti, the state is not destroyed, but fully functioning and with more resources and capacities; and with the crucial capacity to capture and steer international capital and aid organizations. Instead, what is interesting is the trajectory of resilience.

After this type of crisis, old habitats and common-days of so many people are ripped apart, and so many forged relations between both humans, species and machines are lost or loosened, speeding the whole of society – and in fact ecologies – into what ecological theorist like Buzz Holling would refer to as re-organization where different scales of dynamic processes (political, social, ecological) would structure re-organization. Social theorists, for instance Anthony Giddens would perhaps rather highlight how “the normal” has vanished, and how novel structuration processes are in play.

What type of new social relations will be forged, which old ones will be lost and what type of social structure will emerge in the wake of this crisis? Will the social system be less or more inequitable? What chances are there that many of these villages will not return but that people, in face of no jobs or a house to live in in the coming months, will move to Santiago where certainly many already have family and friends? And how will the crisis rearrange the relations between social and ecological systems?

What will for instance happen to local fishermen resource rights now in the hands of the local “sindicatos” and “las caletas”? What seems to be a strenght in this respect is of course that these sindicatos are organized on a greater scale (nation wide) which should grant some greater possibility for sustained collective action to secure these rights for returning fishermen collectives, as would be argued by social movement theorists like Melucci, Diani, and Tarrow.

I would appreciate anyone with more information on emergent initiatives outside the state and business sectors that are mobilizing for a progressive and equitable reorganization phase, to let me know.

Shift in state powers. One worry – or at least important factor – to understand what could come to structure the “reorganization phase” is a coincidence in the transition of state power (all complexity fans will see “punctuated equilibrium” lights blinking). In a few days Chile is shifting from a 20-year long rule by the left-centre coalition of Michelle Bachelet (since the defeat of dictator Augusto Pinochet), to the right-wing rule of Sebastian Pinera, the latter having promised in elections less interference of the state in societal development. What relevance has the (panarchy-inspired-/-marxist) “shock doctrine” hypothesis of Naomi Klein to do with this shift of political rule at the same time as an external shock? Will Pinera seize the opportunity and blame the earthquake so as to pull back some of the social and state-led reforms like education and large-scale social security systems that were put in place by the centre-left coalition under its rule? What framings of reality will Pinera support and actively strive to construct? Will it be one where business “should” play a leading role in reconstruction? One where deregulation of state health insurance and health care will “need to go” or at least not be expanded? Initial response is that he has decided to remake his whole 4-year plan and focus on the reconstruction of Chile, by some estimated to take between 20-30 years, but it is difficult to interpret what his plan means (or what the time period of 20-30 years means for that matter).

What social movements and sustained collective action processes can put enough pressure so as for the most marginalized of Chilean society to access state resources for the reconstruction of their communities, shools and economic outcomes? Surely the self-organizing capability of local groups will be important to access control of resources (the fishermen caletas are crucial), but if these are not linked across time and space, it will be difficult to sustain pressure and hopes for a better future, as the (new) common-day and normalization starts socializing the lifes of Chileans. As above, if anyone has information of such emergent social movements (including the role of unions, fishing sindicatos, NGO’s and similar), I would be most interested to hear.

I see a parallel here (post-crisis social movements) with how Manuel Castells conceptualized urban social movements – as struggles over public consumption (not production, which was the struggle over the means of production).

Something good coming out… Of course research has demonstrated that these crises “could lead to something better”, but I am very reluctant to frame what is happening in Chile or Haiti, or any region thrown into sudden crisis in those terms. Of course something good could come out; everything is possible right? But to frame this as an opportunity for anything is a slap in the face for all those that have lost family members, their home and community; and a disrespect to the dead. As belonging to a world elite as we academics do, I find it very important to reflect upon how we participate in shaping how things are viewed. If something good comes out, that something “good” will always be contested, and it will always have come out out of some kind of social struggle; i.e. persons forming collectives that can win power to reorganize into more equal – by some rationale – communities and societies. That something good is consequently not something that is just happening, with equal opportunities of turning good or bad, but a contested outcome forged out of social and political struggle. A multitude of actors are now grouping in Chile forging novel relations to carry out intended actions, which nonetheless will produce unintended consequences. To frame this as something good or bad is simplistic and could just come to play in the hands of some.

Like many, I am siding with the masses and the marginalized, and I try to understand the factors that will tend to structure reorganization towards a more unequal society.

As a final remark in relation to Haiti, which did not spur this activity in me. I have family in Chile (whom are all safe) and I feel therefore more emotionally affected, although what is going down in Haiti is in ways similar.


PS. A lot of events are currently structuring the reorganization phase at different scales. From my biased media view, here are some:

1. A Swedish reporter reported that in Curico a local radio-station became the nucleus of self-organization just after the earthquake coordination initial aid work and monitoring the situation. This later lead to that soup-kitchens was established at the radio-station gathering the city in mutual relationships of aid and solidarity.

2. In Concepcion the opposite seemed to have occurred. There bands of people robbed shops of food, TV-sets and refrigerators and were stealing from evacuated houses. This made others to arm themselves to protect property and family, leading to the shooting of several. Things calmed down when the army arrived and enforced a 18 hour curfew (for the first time after Pinoche the army was used for this bringing (in me and probably many Chileans) old haunted memories.

3. A 24 hour national TV show “Chile auyda Chile” was held to gather money for the reconstruction, following an old tradition in Chilean society to redistribute money through having the rich donating money to the poor administrated through the state. This was en event that gathered the nation, with the flag, the hymn, celebrities, president and soon-to-be president and with interviews of fishers and villages mourning their dead but with the strong belief to continue (“seguimos adelante”), and displaying help-workers, fire fighters and the army helping people. Just a few days after the big catastrophe, people – even in the most destroyed areas – had a party, quite amazing; and probably a general spirit-boosting event.

The event managed to gather a lot of money (30.1 billion pesos or $59.2 million), and the day after some of those that had robbed the stores in Concepcion, came voluntarily and returned some of the goods; some even making an excuse to the owner, some in public television.

Sociologist studying climate change policy

The failure at COP15 in Copenhagen in December highlights that the greatest challenge to climate change lies in politics and policy processes. This calls for social scientific studies that can study such multi-level and cross-national policy processes.

I have reported before on this blog about a bunch of sociologist in the COMPON study, which is a good example of how social science can engage in bringing understanding on cross-scale linkages. The study was recently commented upon in Nature.

COMPON (Comparing Climate Change Policy Networks) is coordinated by the tireless Jeffrey Broadbent from University of Minnesota, that together with researchers in 15 countries is pulling of this big reserach effort. Among these we have centre reseracher Christofer Edling and Stockholm University sociologist Marcus Carson.

Manifestation at COP15

In an interview with Stockholm University Marcus Carson says that by pairing social network analysis with interviews and document analysis, the COMPON project aims to:

… gather data from organizations such as environmental NGOs, conservative think tanks, human-rights groups, political organizations and so on and get a better understanding of what shapes and motivates their actions.

[These actors, and humans in general] use conceptual models to make sense of the information, but these models include not only what is happening and how, but what kinds of actions should be taken and who to trust for information. Sociological research helps us clarify how these models are constructed and how they are promoted among different groups in society. A better understanding of these factors improves our chances of developing policies that support long-term sustainability.

On their homepage, COMPON writes (and see their blog):

The project […] studying the factors that account for cross-national variation in efforts to mitigate climate change. This variation arises from difference in the interaction process between ways of thinking (discourse) and ways of acting (coalitions) in national cases. The COMPON project currently has teams in over 15 societies (developed, developing, and transitional) and at the international level collecting equivalent empirical data on these processes using content analysis, interview, and inter-organizational network survey.

Resilience Engineering

Resilience philosophy is spreading into many areas. Resilience Engineering is a collection of research organizations and laboratories that at least since 2006 is trying to re-define technology, people and risks in the light of resilience thinking. This is how they write about themselves:

The network of participating organizations of the Resilience Engineering Network (R.E.N.)

The term Resilience Engineering represents a new way of thinking about safety. Whereas conventional risk management approaches are based on hindsight and emphasise error tabulation and calculation of failure probabilities, Resilience Engineering looks for ways to enhance the ability of organisations to create processes that are robust yet flexible, to monitor and revise risk models, and to use resources proactively in the face of disruptions or ongoing production and economic pressures. In Resilience Engineering failures do not stand for a breakdown or malfunctioning of normal system functions, but rather represent the converse of the adaptations necessary to cope with the real world complexity. Individuals and organisations must always adjust their performance to the current conditions; and because resources and time are finite it is inevitable that such adjustments are approximate. Success has been ascribed to the ability of groups, individuals, and organisations to anticipate the changing shape of risk before damage occurs; failure is simply the temporary or permanent absence of that.

I acknowledge Keith Tidball in notifying me of this organization.

Clickstreams to map scientific knowledge production

Johan Bollen and collegues (2009) use “clickstreams” to map science interaction in their latest PLoS article. And they find in Figure 5 that “Ecology” sits in-between as a broker between social science and environmental/biological science.

The network universe of scientific knowledge production

The other researchers of the article are Herbert Van de Sompel, Aric Hagberg, Luis Bettencourt, Ryan Chute, Marko A. Rodrigue, and Lyudmila Balakireva.

The article is discussed further by Kelvin Kelly on his blog The Technicum

Previous maps of the relationship between branches of modern science were done by mapping the citations among journal articles. […] Instead of mapping links, [the new method by Bollen et al 2009] maps clicks. The program reads the logs of the servers offering online journals (the most popular way to get articles today) and records the clickstream of a researcher as they hop from one article to the next. Then these clickstreams (1 billion interactions in this case) are mapped to sort out the relationships generated by users. […] According to the authors of the the paper the advantages of the clickstream versus citation method is that clickstreams give you a real time picture and are broader in scope. They note that “the number of logged interactions now greatly surpasses the volume of all existing citations.”

I’ve been wondering about the future of Google and search engines in
general. […] Wouldn’t be smart to also incorporate the wisdom of crowds of people clicking on sites as well. Mining the clickstream as well as the link graph? I wondered if Google was already doing this? [which they do according to Kelvin Kelly…] The number of clicks will continue to outpace the number of links, so I expect that in the future more and more of the web’s structure will be determined by clickage rather than linkage.

Why do some countries adopt the Kyoto protocal and IPCC recommendations earlier than others?

How is science empowered in different countries? What are the actors and conflicts in different countries? Why is it that more democratic countries seem to adopt the Kyoto protocol earlier than others? The social sciences have a real role to play in answering these questions which will be discussed in the upcoming IHDP Open Meeting in Bonn by researchers affiliated to the COMPON project.

The COMPON project, Comparing Climate Change Policy Networks, is a network of social scientists developing cross-national surveys to explain why some countries adopt IPCC recommendations quicker than others. COMPON, started by US sociologist Jeffrey Broadbent and now includes studies in Japan, China, the United States, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden, England, and Greece.

The aim is to trace the flow of cognitive models (“facts,” frames, ideas and normative evaluations) concerning climate change between the global and national levels, and within the national levels in the policy-formation process… [The] policy network method includes the full range of organizations involved in climate change politics (government agencies, political parties, business, union, NGO and movement associations).

One of the researchers involved is German sociologist Philip Leifeld who has an interesting piece on is homepage that more democratic countries are faster at ratifying the Kyoto protocol.

The rate of adopting the Kyoto protocol in different countries

[Red shows democratic countries; Black undemocratic – countries are classified using different indices – not HDI doesn’t show a clear difference]

The trend is followed for other similar international agreements like the Montreal protocol and the Cartagena protocol on biosafety. Philip discusses why we see these patterns:

Why do we find this impressively consistent pattern? Why do democratic countries ratify the protocols faster than the others? We find four theories about this in the literature:

1. Corruption: In countries with high levels of corruption, industry lobbying can more easily assert national policies against climate protection or similar “threats”.
2. Accountability: Democratic countries have a better capacity to foresee upcoming long-term risks because science, policy-makers and the media engage in an open, public discourse.
3. Collective goods and public choice: Climate protection is a collective good, and countries have an incentive to be freeriders regarding international agreements. But only autocratic countries can afford to do so because they do not have to face punishment by the voters.
4. Capacity: Non-democratic countries usually have a lower level of development, less money and more other competing problems, so they assign a low priority to climate protection.

Which theory is now valid, and which one is wrong? The answer is: We don’t know. The problem is that democracy, corruption control, development, freedom of speech and assembly, wealth, etc. are highly collinear, so it is not possible to separate the effects. This is rather a theoretical than a methodological problem. The plots in figure 4 exhibit the problem: Corruption, development and democracy can all be predicted by gross domestic product per capita.

There are only some small clues that may provide preliminary answers: If we try to assess whether corruption or democracy are responsible for ratification pace, it may be a good idea to look at countries that are democratic but also corrupt or countries that are neither corrupt nor democratic. The only strong outlier in this sense is Singapore, which scores low on most democracy scores and also low on the corruption index. Singapore ratifies the Montreal protocol very early but is an extreme laggard in the cases of Kyoto and Cartagena, so it does not provide us with a satisfactory answer. The second clue may be the difference between the two climate protocols, Kyoto and Montreal, and the biosafety protocol, Cartagena. On the one hand, the difference in pace between democratic and non-democratic countries is much less extreme for the Cartagena protocol, and biosafety is indeed much less important for the industry than pollution control, so this may be a case for the corruption theory. On the other hand, the difference is still there, and it is consistent over all indices, so this suggests that a combination of several explanations is at work. Which one is the most important can unfortunately not be determined at the moment.

Community-mapping projects for sustainability

How to strengthen the voice and knowledge of locals in planning processes? Many have argued that in order to face complexity and uncertainty, decision-making processes need to engage with a diverse set of actors representing different knowledges (see for instance recent article by Carpenter, Folke, Scheffer and Westley 2009, or from planning theory, Jonathan Murdoch, Post-structuralist Geography, 2006).


One civil-society response seems to be to engage with an activity historically mostly attached to top-down and centralized control, and start producing your own maps! By merging community activism with cheap Internet mapping techniques, such local responses are growing into an emergent international movement of community map-makers at Green Map ®.

The organization writes that the focus is to “highlight the social, cultural, and sustainable resources of a particular geographic area” and to support “perspective-changing community ‘portraits’ which act as comprehensive inventories for decision-making and as practical guides for residents and tourists.”


Starting in New York in 1992 the organization now claims to collect hundreds of evolving maps across the world. Just recently the initiative reached one of the community organizations here in my own neigbourhood Bagarmossen, Stockholm, to build the “Stockholm Green Map” (betaversion).

Of course maps have historically been seen as a tool for control, representing the vision of the ruler or the state. And although a critical analysis is still valid when it comes to community-maps, the Green Map ® project and similar projects certainly bring out new possibilities for the general public to participate in the production of facts, values, plans and visions about the landscape. Still though, community maps at Green Map seems to be a bias towards the values of sites and points, a bias that might miss social and ecological linkages across the landscape, which is of concern for the generation of ecosystem services and ecological resilience. Another problem seems to be the openess of the map-making process. When zooming into the Stockholm Green Map one will also find gasoline stations (selling biofuels), restaurants (serving eco-food) and clothing stores. The map becomes a mosaic of quite non-related things vaguely placed under the umbrella of an urban sustainable lifestyle. A coherent narrative is missing that can bring out negreen-map-chiyen-community-taiwanw perspectives and knowledges of urban realities so as to change spatial planning processes.

Framed as a tool for organized public interests like urban (social) and environmental movements, however, this type of mapping could be valuable in visualizing surpressed values and forsaken spatial realities. As such it could enrich knowledge(s) needed for building more equitable and resilient cities.