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Development and Resilience: Re-thinking poverty and intervention in biocultural landscapes
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Stockholm Resilience Centre.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-0265-5356
2017 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The practices related to the growing, harvesting, preparation, and celebration of food over millennia have given rise to diverse biocultural landscapes the world over. These landscapes – rich in biological and cultural diversity – are often characterised by persistent poverty, and, as such, are often the target of development interventions. Yet a lack of understanding of the interdependencies between human well-being, nature, and culture in these landscapes means that such interventions are often unsuccessful - and can even have adverse effects, exacerbating the poverty they were designed to address. This thesis investigates different conceptualisations of persistent poverty in rural biocultural landscapes, the consequences of these conceptualisations, and the ways in which development interventions can benefit from, rather than erode, biocultural diversity.

The thesis first reviews conceptualisations of persistent poverty and specifically, the notion of a poverty trap (Paper I), and examines the consequences of different conceptualisations of traps for efforts to alleviate poverty (Paper II). Paper I argues that the trap concept can be usefully broadened beyond a dominant development economics perspective to incorporate critical interdependencies between humans and nature. Paper II uses multi-dimensional dynamical systems models to show how nature and culture can be impacted by different development interventions, and, in turn, how the degradation of both can undermine the effectiveness of conventional poverty alleviation strategies in certain contexts.

In the second section, the thesis focuses on the effects of, and responses to, trap-like situations and development interventions in a specific context of high biocultural diversity: the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan. Paper III advances a typology of responses to traps based around the mismatch of desires, abilities and opportunities. Observing daily practice provides a way to study social-ecological relationships as a dynamic process, as practices can embody traditional and tacit knowledge in a holistic way.  Paper IV examines the diverse effects of a development intervention on the coevolution of biocultural landscapes and the ways in which everyday practice – particularly around food – can be a source of both innovation and resilience.

Papers I-IV together combine insights from diverse disciplines and methodologies, from systematic review to dynamic systems thinking and participant observation. Paper V provides a critical analysis of the opportunities and challenges involved in pursuing such an approach in sustainability science, underscoring the need to balance methodological groundedness with epistemological agility.

Overall, the thesis contributes to understanding resilience and development, highlighting the value of viewing their interrelation as a dynamic, coevolving process. From this perspective, development should not be regarded as a normative endpoint to be achieved, but rather as a coevolving process between constantly changing ecological and social contexts. The thesis proposes that resilience can be interpreted as the active and passive filtering of practices via the constant discarding and retention of old and new, social and ecological, and endogenous and exogenous factors. This interpretation deepens understanding of resilience as the capacity to persist, adapt and transform, and ultimately shape new development pathways. The thesis also illustrates how daily practices, such as the growing, harvesting, and preparation of food, offer a powerful heuristic device for understanding this filtering process, and therefore the on-going impact of development interventions in rural landscapes across the world.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University , 2017.
Keywords [en]
biocultural diversity, coevolution, development, interdisciplinary, Pamir Mountains, poverty traps, resilience, social-ecological systems
National Category
Other Natural Sciences
Research subject
Sustainability Science
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-145665ISBN: 978-91-7649-909-2 (print)ISBN: 978-91-7649-910-8 (electronic)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-145665DiVA, id: diva2:1133857
Public defence
2017-09-29, Vivi Täckholmsalen (Q-salen), NPQ-huset, Svante Arrhenius väg 20, Stockholm, 10:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Funder
EU, FP7, Seventh Framework Programme
Note

At the time of the doctoral defense, the following paper was unpublished and had a status as follows: Paper 4: Manuscript.

Available from: 2017-09-06 Created: 2017-08-17 Last updated: 2022-02-28Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Traps and Sustainable Development in Rural Areas: A Review
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Traps and Sustainable Development in Rural Areas: A Review
2018 (English)In: World Development, ISSN 0305-750X, E-ISSN 1873-5991, Vol. 101, p. 311-321Article, review/survey (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The concept of a poverty trap—commonly understood as a self-reinforcing situation beneath an asset threshold—has been very influential in describing the persistence of poverty and the relationship between poverty and sustainability. Although traps, and the dynamics that lead to traps, are defined and used differently in different disciplines, the concept of a poverty trap has been most powerfully shaped by work in development economics. This perspective is often constraining because, as many studies show, poverty arises from complex interactions between social and environmental factors that are rarely considered in development economics. A more integrated understanding of poverty traps can help to understand the interrelations between persistent poverty and key social and ecological factors, facilitating more effective development interventions. The aim of this paper is to provide a critical appraisal of existing trap conceptualizations in different disciplines, and to assess the characteristics and mechanisms that are used to explain poverty traps in rural contexts, thereby broadening the traps concept to better account for social-ecological interactions. Complementarities and tensions among different disciplinary perspectives on traps are identified, and our results demonstrate that different definitions of traps share a set of common characteristics: persistence, undesirability, and self-reinforcement. Yet these minimum conditions are not sufficient to understand how trap dynamics arise from complex social-ecological interactions. To broaden the utility of the concept we propose a more social-ecologically integrated definition of traps that includes four additional considerations: cross-scale interactions, path dependencies, the role of external drivers, and social-ecological diversity. Including these wider dimensions of trap dynamics would help to better account for the diverse social-ecological feedbacks that produce and maintain poverty traps, and could strengthen strategies to alleviate poverty in a more integrated way.

Keywords
traps, poverty, social-ecological, development
National Category
Other Social Sciences Earth and Related Environmental Sciences Social and Economic Geography
Research subject
Sustainability Science
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-145555 (URN)10.1016/j.worlddev.2017.05.038 (DOI)000415391700022 ()2-s2.0-85021770321 (Scopus ID)
Available from: 2017-08-09 Created: 2017-08-09 Last updated: 2022-05-20Bibliographically approved
2. Resilience offers escape from trapped thinking on poverty alleviation
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Resilience offers escape from trapped thinking on poverty alleviation
2017 (English)In: Science Advances, E-ISSN 2375-2548, Vol. 3, no 5, article id 1603043Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The poverty trap concept strongly influences current research and policy on poverty alleviation. Financial or technological inputs intended to push the rural poor out of a poverty trap have had many successes but have also failed unexpectedly with serious ecological and social consequences that can reinforce poverty. Resilience thinking can help to (i) understand how these failures emerge from the complex relationships between humans and the ecosystems on which they depend and (ii) navigate diverse poverty alleviation strategies, such as transformative change, that may instead be required. First, we review commonly observed or assumed social-ecological relationships in rural development contexts, focusing on economic, biophysical, and cultural aspects of poverty. Second, we develop a classification of poverty alleviation strategies using insights from resilience research on social-ecological change. Last, we use these advances to develop stylized, multidimensional poverty trap models. The models show that (i) interventions that ignore nature and culture can reinforce poverty (particularly in agrobiodiverse landscapes), (ii) transformative change can instead open new pathways for poverty alleviation, and (iii) asset inputs may be effective in other contexts (for example, where resource degradation and poverty are tightly interlinked). Our model-based approach and insights offer a systematic way to review the consequences of the causal mechanisms that characterize poverty traps in different agricultural contexts and identify appropriate strategies for rural development challenges.

National Category
Other Social Sciences Earth and Related Environmental Sciences Social and Economic Geography
Research subject
Sustainability Science
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-144866 (URN)10.1126/sciadv.1603043 (DOI)000401955300045 ()28508077 (PubMedID)2-s2.0-85032708263 (Scopus ID)
Available from: 2017-06-28 Created: 2017-06-28 Last updated: 2022-05-20Bibliographically approved
3. Human responses to social-ecological traps
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Human responses to social-ecological traps
2016 (English)In: Sustainability Science, ISSN 1862-4065, E-ISSN 1862-4057, Vol. 11, no 6, p. 877-889Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Social-ecological (SE) traps refer to persistent mismatches between the responses of people, or organisms, and their social and ecological conditions that are undesirable from a sustainability perspective. Until now, the occurrence of SE traps is primarily explained from a lack of adaptive capacity; not much attention is paid to other causal factors. In our article, we address this concern by theorizing the variety of human responses to SE traps and the effect of these responses on trap dynamics. Besides (adaptive) capacities, we theorize desires, abilities and opportunities as important additional drivers to explain the diversity of human responses to traps. Using these theoretical concepts, we construct a typology of human responses to SE traps, and illustrate its empirical relevance with three cases of SE traps: Swedish Baltic Sea fishery; amaXhosa rural livelihoods; and Pamir smallholder farming. We conclude with a discussion of how attention to the diversity in human response to SE traps may inform future academic research and planned interventions to prevent or dissolve SE traps.

Keywords
Social-ecological traps, Sociology, Responses, Typology, Primary production, Rural development
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary Sociology
Research subject
Natural Resources Management; Sustainability Science
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-135277 (URN)10.1007/s11625-016-0397-x (DOI)000386378100003 ()
Available from: 2016-11-02 Created: 2016-11-02 Last updated: 2022-02-28Bibliographically approved
4. The effects of development interventions on coevolved practices in biocultural landscapes
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The effects of development interventions on coevolved practices in biocultural landscapes
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Baht, a festive porridge prepared for the Persian New Year in the Pamir Mountains is made from a sweet variety of red wheat, Rashtak, which grows only in the high reaches of its most remote valley. The relationship between ecology and culture in landscapes like the Pamirs runs deep, with everyday practices and rituals having co-evolved with the harsh environment over millennia. Such tightly intertwined biocultural landscapes are, however, often among the world’s poorest and thus are particularly subject to external development interventions. This paper investigates the effects of a particular development intervention, the introduction of an improved wheat seed, on everyday traditional practices and the rituals that maintain them. The intervention contributed towards the near extinction of Rashtak, along with many other traditional seed varieties. Using Norgaard’s coevolutionary framework we analyse the changes in relations between ecology and society resulting from diverse community responses to the intervention. We observe that rituals, which emerge from successful everyday practices, can provide a valuable entry point to understanding co-evolutionary processes in biocultural landscapes. Through participatory observation in two villages, specifically around the practices of food preparation, we examine contrasting responses to the introduced seed in the context of larger-scale development in the region. Our findings show how in one village, Rashtak has been lost but the ritual of baht remains, though the daily practices and social-ecological relationships linked to the ritual have been strongly altered. In the other community, the new ‘improved’ seed was only cultivated on small areas of land in a process of trial and error and farmers maintained their traditional varieties alongside the new seed. Thereby, the rituals around baht remain deeply rooted in social-ecological relationships that have been maintained over the years. The paper describes innovative individual responses to development interventions in everyday life in both communities and finds that some can be important sources of resilience. For example, in the community that lost Rashtak, along with many other local seeds, the knowledge around how to cultivate the land is maintained in a ‘harvest dance’ choreographed and taught be a local school teacher. Rituals, as a repository of social memory, can play an important role in development processes whilst maintaining important social-ecological relationships for future resilience. A deeper understanding of coevolutionary processes in a landscape may help develop approaches for identifying and harnessing endogenous responses to local, regional and global change and help empower more appropriate and effective development pathways.

Keywords
biocultural, development, everyday practice, Pamir mountains, ritual, agricultural biodiversity
National Category
Other Natural Sciences Other Social Sciences
Research subject
Sustainability Science
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-145663 (URN)
Funder
EU, FP7, Seventh Framework Programme
Available from: 2017-08-16 Created: 2017-08-16 Last updated: 2022-02-28Bibliographically approved
5. The undisciplinary journey: early-career perspectives in sustainability science
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The undisciplinary journey: early-career perspectives in sustainability science
Show others...
2018 (English)In: Sustainability Science, ISSN 1862-4065, E-ISSN 1862-4057, Vol. 13, no 1, p. 191-204Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The establishment of interdisciplinary Master’s and PhD programs in sustainability science is opening up an exciting arena filled with opportunities for early-career scholars to address pressing sustainability challenges. However, embarking upon an interdisciplinary endeavor as an early-career scholar poses a unique set of challenges: to develop an individual scientific identity and a strong and specific methodological skill-set, while at the same time gaining the ability to understand and communicate between different epistemologies. Here, we explore the challenges and opportunities that emerge from a new kind of interdisciplinary journey, which we describe as ‘undisciplinary.’ Undisciplinary describes (1) the space or condition of early-career researchers with early interdisciplinary backgrounds, (2) the process of the journey, and (3) the orientation which aids scholars to address the complex nature of today’s sustainability challenges. The undisciplinary journey is an iterative and reflexive process of balancing methodological groundedness and epistemological agility to engage in rigorous sustainability science. The paper draws upon insights from a collective journey of broad discussion, reflection, and learning, including a survey on educational backgrounds of different generations of sustainability scholars, participatory forum theater, and a panel discussion at the Resilience 2014 conference (Montpellier, France). Based on the results from this diversity of methods, we suggest that there is now a new and distinct generation of sustainability scholars that start their careers with interdisciplinary training, as opposed to only engaging in interdisciplinary research once strong disciplinary foundations have been built. We further identify methodological groundedness and epistemological agility as guiding competencies to become capable sustainability scientists and discuss the implications of an undisciplinary journey in the current institutional context of universities and research centers. In this paper, we propose a simple framework to help early-career sustainability scholars and well-established scientists successfully navigate what can sometimes be an uncomfortable space in education and research, with the ultimate aim of producing and engaging in rigorous and impactful sustainability science.

Keywords
Interdisciplinary, Education, Sustainability science, Undisciplinary, Methodological groundedness, Epistemological agility
National Category
Educational Sciences Earth and Related Environmental Sciences
Research subject
Sustainability Science
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-145557 (URN)10.1007/s11625-017-0445-1 (DOI)000419612300016 ()2-s2.0-85021164012 (Scopus ID)
Available from: 2017-08-09 Created: 2017-08-09 Last updated: 2022-05-23Bibliographically approved

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