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The Political Economy of Cross-Scale Networks in Resource Co-Management

W. Neil Adger, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research
Katrina Brown, University of East Anglia
Emma L. Tompkins, University of East Anglia


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We investigate linkages between stakeholders in resource management that occur at different spatial and institutional levels and identify the winners and losers in such interactions. So-called cross-scale interactions emerge because of the benefits to individual stakeholder groups in undertaking them or the high costs of not undertaking them. Hence there are uneven gains from cross-scale interactions that are themselves an integral part of social-ecological system governance. The political economy framework outlined here suggests that the determinants of the emergence of cross-scale interactions are the exercise of relative power between stakeholders and their costs of accessing and creating linkages. Cross-scale interactions by powerful stakeholders have the potential to undermine trust in resource management arrangements. If government regulators, for example, mobilize information and resources from cross-level interactions to reinforce their authority, this often disempowers other stakeholders such as resource users. Offsetting such impacts, some cross-scale interactions can be empowering for local level user groups in creating social and political capital. These issues are illustrated with observations on resource management in a marine protected area in Tobago in the Caribbean. The case study demonstrates that the structure of the cross-scale interplay, in terms of relative winners and losers, determines its contribution to the resilience of social-ecological systems.

Key words

Caribbean; institutions; marine protected areas; natural resource management; power; social-ecological resilience; transaction costs.
Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087