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Reconciling contradictory narratives of landscape change using the adaptive cycle: a case study from southeastern Australia

Andrea Rawluk, National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training; Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation, Charles Sturt University
Allan Curtis, National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training; Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation, Charles Sturt University


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This paper addresses the methodological challenge of exposing and reconciling contradictory narratives of change in a social-ecological system (SES). Our research occurred in the Ovens Valley in southeastern Australia. Other studies have used the adaptive cycle to interpret change, but those efforts have been based on researcher-derived interpretations. We drew on the Factors Actors Sectors framework as a structure for coding qualitative interview data provided by key informants. Our analysis suggested that interpretations of SES change fell into three groups: farmers, employees of government and local organizations, and local politicians. Those narratives were then overlaid on the adaptive cycle as a way of exposing and interpreting the narratives. To farmers, the SES was based on agriculture and approaching collapse, and intervention was required to prevent a collapse. Employees of government and local organizations thought the SES had already collapsed, and local people were struggling to identify a prosperous new trajectory. The local politicians also thought the system had collapsed but unlike the other stakeholders, considered the SES as having already reorganized. We then drew on a range of secondary data to reconcile those contradictory narratives and form a consolidated interpretation of landscape change. Our synthesis of the primary and secondary data suggested that the SES had collapsed and reorganized as a multifunctional landscape. We suggest our approach may be useful to others attempting to interpret landscape change using a resilience framework. The case study also illustrates the importance of exploring multiple perspectives of landscape change as a way of exposing the role of power as a force shaping discourse and, therefore, policy and planning.

Key words

adaptive cycle; landscape change; narratives

Copyright © 2016 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work 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