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Power Asymmetries in Small-Scale Fisheries: a Barrier to Governance Transformability?

Beatrice Crona, Stockholm Resilience Center, Stockholm University, Sweden
Örjan Bodin, Stockholm Resilience Center and Department of Systems Ecology, Stockholm University


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Both global and local environmental problems call for the transformation of many contemporary and unsustainable governance approaches. Therefore, recent interest has sprung up around factors that facilitate and hinder societies from transforming governance of natural resources. Using a social-network approach, we study links between informal power structures and knowledge sharing and consensus building. We examine how this interaction may have affected the (in)ability of a community to move from open-access to some form of collective action for resource management. Individuals occupying central positions in a knowledge network can be instrumental in determining which knowledge and interpretation of ecological signals is most dominant. If the same individuals are also influential in other areas, they are highly likely to become opinion leaders. We use this notion of opinion leaders to frame our study. The study is set in a rural fishing community in East Africa where access to fishing equipment is of utmost importance for generating household income, but such gear ownership is not evenly distributed in the village. Hence, we use gear-exchange networks to explore power. Our results show a clear and strong relationship between centrality in the knowledge network and in-degree centrality (reflecting gear-lending capacity) in the gear-exchange network, supporting the idea that opinion leaders exist. We also indicate that a majority of these potential opinion leaders demonstrate little recognition of declining fisheries. We relate our findings to existing theories of influence and governance transformability at the community level, and explore ideas about how social networks can help identify potential change agents in communities experiencing inertia with respect to collective action for improved resource management.

Key words

comanagement; governance; local ecological knowledge; natural resources; power; social networks; transformation

Copyright © 2010 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087