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Copyright © 2000 by The Resilience Alliance

The following is the established format for referencing this article:
Raufflet, E. 2000. Berkes, F., and C. Folke, editors. 1998. Linking social and ecological systems: management practices and social mechanisms for building resilience. Cambridge University Press, New York. Conservation Ecology 4(2): 5. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol4/iss2/art5/

Book Review

Berkes, F., and C. Folke, editors. 1998. Linking Social and Ecological Systems: Management Practices and Social Mechanisms for Building Resilience. Cambridge University Press, New York.

Emmanuel Raufflet

McGill University

Published: November 23, 2000

Clive Ponting (1991) described the world history of natural resources management as a "monument to human shortsightedness." More recently, failures of large-scale "managed" ecosystems have challenged natural resource management theory and practice. Are humans condemned to destroy ecosystems? Is this due to a lack of understanding of ecological systems? Is it due to the difficulties of crafting resource-friendly management regimes? Are these problems related?

Berkes and Folke (1998) explore these questions from an interdisciplinary perspective. In their book, Linking Social and Ecological Systems: Management Practices and Social Mechanisms for Building Resilience, they use the organizing concept of resilience, defined as the capacity of a system to absorb disturbances, to bridge the traditional divide between social research, which focuses on institutions, organizations, and social practices, and ecological research, which focuses on the cross-scale dynamics of ecosystems.

The book presents 12 case studies that document linkages between resilient ecosystems on the one hand and ecosystems, people and technology, local ecological knowledge, and property rights on the other. The cases are grouped around three themes: the conflict between local and larger-scale institutions, the long-term dynamics of local management systems, and the effects of regional conservation plans on local action.

The first set of case studies deals with interactions between locally crafted institutions based on local ecological knowledge and national management regimes that promote scientific extractive practices. The topics covered in these case studies range from the revived role of traditional, prudent ecological practices that use refugia in Indian villages (Gadgil et al.) through the struggle between locals and the national government in Dalecarlia, Sweden, over land tenure and inheritance systems (Sporrong) to conversations about fishing practices between scientists and local fishers in Iceland (Pàlsson).

The case studies that explore the long-term trajectories of local management systems examine the question, "Do crises foster institutional learning?" Berkes investigates how resource crises faced by the Cree in the Canadian Subarctic led to institutional learning. Begossi compares the ways in which two Brazilian neotraditional peoples have adapted to their forest environments: the caiçaras in the Atlantic forest have crafted rules based mainly on kinship ties, whereas the caboclos in the Amazon Basin have established legally institutionalized rules governing common property. Warren and Pinkston describe the interactions between Yoruba society and the rain forest at Ara, Nigeria. Hanna traces the ways in which rule making and enforcement have shaped the management of the shell clam fishery in the State of Maine over the last two centuries.

The final set of case studies explores how deeply regional systems are embedded in national legal frameworks. Alcorn and Toledo highlight the enabling role of property rights in the community management of Mexico's forests. Niamir-Fuller describes the mechanisms developed and used by pastoralists to maintain their natural environment in the fragile semi-arid climates of the Sahel. Jodha discusses the decline and conditions for the restoration of resource-friendly management regimes in the Himalayan region of the Hindukush. Finlayson and McCay explore the links between Canadian and international policies, the introduction of new fishing technologies, and the collapse of the cod fishery in Newfoundland, Canada, in the early 1990s. Finally, Pinkerton describes how the Eagle Clan of the Gitksan used a combined approach involving traditional knowledge and Western landscape ecology to produce a sustainable logging plan in northern British Columbia, Canada.

Three integrative chapters discuss the lessons learned from these case studies. The first focuses on the fishing sector. As an approach to managing chaotic fisheries, Acheson et al. propose the use of parametric management, which builds on "ecosystem management" and uses key ecosystem variables to influence the target species. Holling et al. contend that conventional science is mainly "disciplinary, reductionist, mechanistic and detached from policies and politics," and that scientific recommendations have led to narrow utilitarian policies, such as the pursuit of maximum sustained yield, that view resources as a commodity. Conventional science and utilitarian policies in natural resource management frequently clash with the nonlinear, multistable, discontinuous behaviors of ecosystems. The authors argue that systems theory can help to unravel management puzzles, and that adaptive management can usefully link science to ecological management policy.

The book concludes with a synthesis chapter from Berkes and Folke. They present a summary of management practices based on local ecological knowledge and offer guiding principles for building resilience in social-ecological systems. These management practices are summarized in a table on page 417 that provides a starting point for the further identification of practices that lead to resilience and sustainability. The guiding principles, "as social mechanisms behind these management practices," consist of designing management systems that (1) "flow with nature," (2) enable the development and use of local ecological knowledge to understand local ecosystems, (3) promote self-organization and institutional learning, and (4) develop values consistent with resilient and sustainable social-ecological systems.

This book will definitely be of interest for broad audiences of researchers and practitioners. Ecological "surprises" in managed ecosystems, such as the cod collapse in Newfoundland or the water problems of the Everglades, are challenging the science and management of natural resources. During this period of theoretical uncertainty, well-documented cases are more likely to inform us than conventional research that focuses on the testing of hypotheses (Yin 1984). The clarity with which the book presents these case studies and builds these theories should allow it to cross academic disciplines and idioms. Ecologists as well as social scientists will find the guiding principles proposed by Berkes and Folke stimulating propositions for further exploration. Practitioners may gain insights, particularly on the links between extractive practices and institutions, from the detailed description of the 12 cases and the summary of management practices.

Altogether, this book is a solid, well-crafted, and thought-provoking contribution that addresses the challenges of natural resource management. The quality of its case studies and the clarity of its theoretical propositions make it a landmark for anyone interested in understanding the dynamic connections between knowledge, practices, institutions, and ecosystems.


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.


Berkes, F., and C. Folke, editors. 1998. Linking sociological and ecological systems: management practices and social mechanisms for building resilience. Cambridge University Press, New York, New York, USA.

Ponting, C. 1991. A green history of the world: the environment and the collapse of great civilizations. Penguin, London, UK.

Yin, R. K. 1984. Case study research: design and methods. Applied social research methods, volume 5. Sage Publications, Beverly Hills, California, USA.

Address of Correspondent:
Emmanuel Raufflet
Faculty of Management
McGill University
Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3A 1G5
Phone: (514) 849-2664

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