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Social-ecological memory as a source of general and specified resilience

Björn Nykvist, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University; Stockholm Environment Institute
Jacob von Heland, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University


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We explored why social-ecological memory (SEM) is a source of inertia and path dependence, as well as a source of renewal and reorganization in social-ecological systems (SESs). We have presented two case studies: the historical case of the Norse settlement on Greenland and an empirical case from contemporary southern Madagascar. The cases illustrate how SEM is linked to specific pathways of development and a particular set of natural resource management practices. We have shown that in each case, a broader diversity of SEM is present in the SESs, but not drawn upon. Instead, SEMs are part of what explains community coherence and the barriers to adoption of more diverse practices. We have elaborated on how specific SEMs are linked to specified resilience, and we have shown that this fits existing notions of resilience, robustness, inertia, and path dependence. We have proposed that to change the dynamics of development pathways that do not produce desired results, it is necessary for managers to shift from specific to general SEM, which would also mirror the shift from specified to general resilience. The challenge lies in the interplay between the specified and the general. In this critical work, it is important to recognize that the valued diversity of SEM necessary for general resilience might actually reside in a different community.

Key words

general and specified resilience; identity; pathway dependency; robustness; social-ecological memory

Copyright © 2014 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