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Governance, Scale and the Environment: The Importance of Recognizing Knowledge Claims in Transdisciplinary Arenas

Marleen Buizer, Centre of Excellence on Climate Change Woodland and Forest Health
Bas Arts, Forest and Nature Conservation Policy Group, Wageningen University and Research Centre
Kasper Kok, Land Dynamics Group, Wageningen University and Research Centre

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Abstract

Any present day approach of the world’s most pressing environmental problems involves both scale and governance issues. After all, current local events might have long-term global consequences (the scale issue) and solving complex environmental problems requires policy makers to think and govern beyond generally used time-space scales (the governance issue). To an increasing extent, the various scientists in these fields have used concepts like social-ecological systems, hierarchies, scales and levels to understand and explain the “complex cross-scale dynamics” of issues like climate change. A large part of this work manifests a realist paradigm: the scales and levels, either in ecological processes or in governance systems, are considered as “real”. However, various scholars question this position and claim that scales and levels are continuously (re)constructed in the interfaces of science, society, politics and nature. Some of these critics even prefer to adopt a non-scalar approach, doing away with notions such as hierarchy, scale and level. Here we take another route, however. We try to overcome the realist-constructionist dualism by advocating a dialogue between them on the basis of exchanging and reflecting on different knowledge claims in transdisciplinary arenas. We describe two important developments, one in the ecological scaling literature and the other in the governance literature, which we consider to provide a basis for such a dialogue. We will argue that scale issues, governance practices as well as their mutual interdependencies should be considered as human constructs, although dialectically related to nature’s materiality, and therefore as contested processes, requiring intensive and continuous dialogue and cooperation among natural scientists, social scientists, policy makers and citizens alike. They also require critical reflection on scientists’ roles and on academic practices in general. Acknowledging knowledge claims provides a common ground and point of departure for such cooperation, something we think is not yet sufficiently happening, but which is essential in addressing today’s environmental problems.

Key words

environmental governance; knowledge claims; scale, science-policy interface; transdisciplinarity
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087