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Copyright © 2000 by The Resilience Alliance

The following is the established format for referencing this article:
Evans, J. 2000. Human agency, external factors, and discourse. Conservation Ecology 4(1): r3. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol4/iss1/resp3/

Response to Pritchard and Sanderson 1999. "The Power of Politics in Agent-based Models of Ecosystem Management: A Comment on Carpenter, Brock, and Hanson"

Human Agency, External Factors, and Discourse

James Evans

University of Birmingham

Published: March 13, 2000

Pritchard and Sanderson (1999) mention a number of approaches to the analysis of human behavior: history, external factors, embedding agents, structural processes, power, macrosocial drivers, "emergent properties" of social aggregates, etc. However, recent analytical approaches are more amenable to the types of questions thrown up by Carpenter, Brock, and Hanson's project (1999). All the approaches listed above can be reduced to the question, "How do people find meaning in life?"

Discourse theories hold that meaning is social, and certain meanings tend to become fixed by collective usage (both colloquially and in the media) and by institutionalization over time and space. These fixed sets of meanings are "discourses," and through them humans experience life. For example, sustainable development is a discourse that has altered the way most people in the Western world conceive of and act upon the world.

Why are discourses relevant here? First, because the founding presuppositions of a discourse can explain counter-intuitive results. The surprising ease with which governments and business incorporated the environmental agenda into their own is because both environmentalism and neoclassical economics use the same conception of the relationship between man and nature, i.e., they view nature as man's limited resource base.

Second, discourses are inherently dynamic and reflexive. Cultural resistance to change may cause unpredictable farmer responses to changes in the regulations or costs of fertilizer usage and affect future behavior by strengthening or weakening certain discourses. Discourses are also relational, allowing the links between traditionally separate entities to be theorized in one framework. Consequently, the concept of discourse has much potential in interdisciplinary projects such as these.


Responses to this article are invited. If accepted for publication, your response will be hyperlinked to the article. To submit a comment, follow this link. To read comments already accepted, follow this link.


Carpenter, S., W. Brock, and P. Hanson. 1999. Ecological and social dynamics in simple models of ecosystem management. Conservation Ecology 3(2): 4. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/Journal/vol3/iss2/art4

Pritchard, L., Jr. and S. Sanderson. 1999. The power of politics in agent-based models of ecosystem management: comment on "Ecological and social dynamics in simple models of ecosystem management" by S. R. Carpenter, W. A. Brock, and P. Hanson. Conservation Ecology 3(2): 9. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/Journal/vol3/iss2/art9

Address of Correspondent:
James Evans
3 Dartmouth Rd.
Selly Oak
B29 6EA UK
Phone: 01214714358

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