New insights and fruitful dialogues at the Second PRODIGY Symposium

Comment on the PRODIGY-Symposium, “Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Resilience in Social-Ecological Systems” on September 16-17, 2021

From the 16th to the 17th of September, a group of 14 scholars from 9 countries joint the second PRODIGY Symposium on “Resilience in Social-Ecological Systems”. Inspiring talks, lively debates and a cooperative environment fostered the knowledge exchange within four different streams of research: (1) Conceptual approaches on resilience and tipping points; (2) Potential contributions and pitfalls of the bioeconomy model for creating resilient SES; (3) Alternative and postcolonial perspectives and approaches on the interdisciplinary discussion of SES; (4) The impacts of crisis on the resilience of social-ecological systems.

The legacy of sites and landscapes determining resilience and the respective imaginaries of current developments was the main focus of Susanna Hecht’s presentation which provided us with a grounded historical starting point for our joint reflections. Ricardo Abramovay followed up on this historical perspective with his reflections on the analytical separation between nature and humanity and eventually its overcoming by practicing science of sustainability. Examples of empirical research on the impacts of soyscapes by María Piquer-Rodrigues or non-timber forest products by Diego Guarín shed light on pitfalls of the bioeconomy model as well as for insufficiently supported NTFP-economies creating resilient social-ecological systems. We ended the first day with Xóchitl Leyva Solano’s questions of how knowledge production is actually taking place and whose regimes of truth eventually prevail. Trying to understand the difference between ‘earth as a mother’ or as a ‘natural resource’, the concept of epistemic violence within techno-scientific approaches was introduced as an additional hurdle for sustainability sciences. Helen Verran started the second day of the symposium by asking the question what culture has to do with governance, and how practices of sameness across culture and class can be identified and institutionalized. Questions that were taken up by Sérgio Costa, who gave us an overview of the different Latin American approaches to work the gap between humans and nature, such as: political ecology, buen vivir and conviviality. What we ask and how we talk about things can either perpetuate colonial practice or try to overcome the former: Regine Schönenberg unfolded the complexity of interrelated criteria for good scientific communication and possible pathways to arbitrate understanding aiming for postcolonial moments. Cristina de la Vega-Leinert’s presentation resonates this with the questions: For whom and which natural resources are being protected or restored? Which approaches are being applied? Who is included and who is excluded?

For the identification of economic tipping points, Oliver Frör and Daniel Callo-Concha introduced a methodology to assess systematically the stakeholders’ economic resilience via system analysis starting with stakeholder networks. An approach that combines nicely with Frederica Romagnoli’s assessment of the governance of extreme weather events in the forests, stating that resilience strategies are hampered by a limited knowledge about the system and the spatial, temporal, and contextual (environmental, socio-cultural, regulatory, and related) circumstances within which it functions (Kerner and Thomas 2014).

In the end of this very interesting symposium we were more thoughtful than before and probably more cautious about which system, whose resilience and whose natural resources we are actually addressing. This symposium was also a way of remembering that these systems are filled with life, human and non-human, highlighting the importance of listening and talking with those who have other ways of knowing and experiencing this shared world. We continue our work in the spirit of Ailton Krenak (2020) acknowledging that “through the dividing idea that the world is one thing and we humans are another, this abstraction called environment was born. The environment is an invention of the minds of people who cannot have the experience of talking to the river, to the mountain, of feeling connected to the territory in which they live. So these people without culture, without identity, have had to invent an environmental science to grasp the damage they are doing to the earth, to life.”

 

Background:

The concept of social-ecological systems (SES) has emerged as a new and integrative perspective to understand and analyze complex human-environment interactions. Rather than linking environmental and human aspects in a bi-disciplinary manner (e.g. ecology and economy) SES suggests a complex network of multiple and interconnected system components.

In a globalized world, transformations at the local level have the potential to scale up and affect distant parts of the globe. Therefore, the aim of our symposium was to work out more clearly what analytical space the SES approach offers for concepts such as power, the state and the co-production of knowledge.

Acknowledging that the ongoing scientific debate about SES and resilience is very diverse, we discussed resilience during two days and four sessions applying SES frames and the alternative or postcolonial contestation of western concepts regarding human-nature relationships, views on resilience and vulnerability.

 

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