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Continuity and Change in Social-ecological Systems: the Role of Institutional Resilience

Elke Herrfahrdt-Pähle, German Development Institute (DIE), Bonn, Germany
Claudia Pahl-Wostl, Institute for Environmental Systems Research, University of Osnabrueck

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-04565-170208

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Abstract

In recent years recurring political, economic, and environmental crises require questioning and re-evaluating dominant pathways of human development. However, political and economic frameworks seem to encompass deeply rooted resistance to fundamental changes (e.g., global financial crisis, climate change negotiations). In an effort to repair the system as fast as possible, those paradigms, mechanisms, and structures that led into the crisis are perpetuated. Instead of preserving conventional patterns and focusing on continuity, crises could be used as an opportunity for learning, adapting, and entering onto more sustainable pathways. However, there are different ways not only of arguing for sustainable pathways of development but also of conceptualizing continuity and change. By focusing on institutions, we illustrate the tension between the concepts of continuity and change, how they interact, and how they build or degrade institutional resilience. The analysis draws on empirical research in South Africa and Uzbekistan, which were locked in persistent regimes over decades. Faced with the challenge to transform, Uzbekistan chose a pathway of institutional continuity, while South Africa opted for comprehensive reforms and a high level of change. Based on these case studies, we illustrate the advantages and disadvantages of institutional continuity and change. Elements of institutional continuity during times of transformation include preserving key institutions, which define how the rules are made; maintaining social memory; providing transparency of reform processes and allowing them time to take effect. Elements of institutional change required during phases of consolidation include flexible legislation; regular reviews; and adaptation of legislation during and after implementation.

Key words

adaptation; institutions; persistence; resilience; transformation; water governance

Copyright © 2012 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.

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087