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Assessing an Adaptive Cycle in a Social System under External Pressure to Change: the Importance of Intergroup Relations in Recreational Fisheries Governance

Katrin Daedlow, Division of Resource Economics, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany; Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries Berlin, Germany
Volker Beckmann, Division of Resource Economics, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany; Landscape Economics Group, Ernst Moritz Arndt University Greifswald, Germany
Robert Arlinghaus, Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries Berlin, Germany; Inland Fisheries Management Laboratory, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany


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The adaptive cycle constitutes a heuristic originally used to interpret the dynamics of complex ecosystems in response to disturbance and change. It is assumed that socially constructed governance systems go through similar phases (K, Ω [omega], α [alpha], r) as evident in ecological adaptive cycles. Two key dimensions of change shaping the four phases of an adaptive cycle are the degree of connectedness and the range of potential in the system. Our purpose was to quantitatively assess the four phases of the adaptive cycle in a social system by measuring the potential and connectedness dimensions and their different levels in each of the four phases. We assessed these dimensions using quantitative data from content analysis of magazine articles describing the transition process of East German recreational fisheries governance after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. This process was characterized by the discussion of two governance alternatives amendable for implementation: a central East German and a decentralized West German approach. Contrary to assumptions in the adaptive cycle heuristic, we were unable to identify the four phases of the adaptive cycle in our governance system based on quantitatively assessed levels of connectedness and potential alone. However, the insertion of in-group (East Germans) and out-group (West Germans) dimensions representing the two governance alternatives in our analysis enabled us to identify the specific time frames for all four phases of the adaptive cycle on a monthly basis. These findings suggest that an unmodified “figure-eight model” of the adaptive cycle may not necessarily hold in social systems. Inclusion of disciplinary theories such as intergroup relation theory will help in understanding adaptation processes in social systems.

Key words

adaptive cycle; connectedness; content analysis; East Germany; intergroup relation theory; potential; recreational fisheries; social system

Copyright © 2011 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