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Knowing by fishing: Conceptualising ecological knowledge as working knowledge
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Education.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-7142-7445,
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Stockholm Resilience Centre.
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

That the ecological knowledge of local users has great value for sustainable resource use and human development is widely accepted. Underneath this broad consensus about its importance nevertheless lies uncertainty and debate about the ways in which it can be best conceptualized. Is this knowledge best understood as a ‘system of knowledge’ or as ’ways of knowing’? And how can it be conceptually and methodologically operationalized as grounded in processes of work? In this study, we explore how fishers’ work in ecosystems influences what they know. We combine a Fishing Style Analysis with the Structure-Dynamic-Function Framework for a systematic study of the ecological knowledge used in Baltic coastal fisheries in Blekinge, Sweden. The results are used to discuss the theoretical and methodological implications of perceiving fishers’ ecological knowledge as generated, accumulated, transferred and adjusted through processes of work.

Keyword [en]
Environmental management, social issues in management, environmental psychology, sociology, education
National Category
Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-133693OAI: diva2:968667
Ecological knowledge and sustainable resource management: The role of knowledge acquisition in enhancing the adaptive capacity of co-management arrangementWorking knowledge in Swedish coastal fishery - Making cultural capital visible for sustainable use of coastal sea- and landscapesGreen Growth Based on Marine Resources: Ecological and Socio- Economic Constraints (GreenMAR)Nordic Centre for Research on Marine Ecosystems and Resources under Climate Change (NorMER)
Swedish Research CouncilMistra - The Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research
Available from: 2016-09-12 Created: 2016-09-12 Last updated: 2016-09-19Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Learning ecosystem complexity: A study on small-scale fishers’ ecological knowledge generation
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Learning ecosystem complexity: A study on small-scale fishers’ ecological knowledge generation
2016 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Small-scale fisheries are learning contexts of importance for generating, transferring, and updating ecological knowledge of natural environments through everyday work practices. The rich knowledge fishers have of local ecosystems is the result of the intimate relationship fishing communities have had with their natural environments across generations (see e.g. Urquhart and Acott 2013). This relationship develops strong emotional bonds to the physical and social place. For fishing communities and fishers – who depend directly on local ecosystems to maintain their livelihoods – fishing environments are natural places for living, working and defining themselves. Previous research on fishers’ ecological knowledge has mainly been descriptive, i.e., has focused on aspects such as reproduction, nutrition and spatial-temporal distribution and population dynamics, from a traditional view of knowledge that only recognises scientific knowledge as the true knowledge. By doing this, fishers’ ecological knowledge has been investigated separately from the learning contexts in which it is generated, ignoring the influence of social, cultural and historical aspects that characterise fishing communities, and the complex relationships between fishers and the natural environments they live and work in. This thesis investigates ecological knowledge among small-scale fishers living and working in the ecosystems of Lake Vättern and the Blekinge Archipelago (Baltic Sea) in Sweden and explores how ecological knowledge is generated with particular regard to the influences of work and nature on fishers’ knowledge of ecosystems. The aim of this thesis is to contribute to the knowledge and understanding of informal learning processes of ecosystem complexity among small-scale fishers. This knowledge further contributes to the research field of ecological knowledge and sustainable use and management of natural resources. It addresses the particular research questions of what ecological knowledge fishers generate, and how its generation is influenced by their fishing work practices and relationships to nature.

The thesis consists of three articles. Article I focuses on the need to address the significant lack of theoretical and methodological frameworks for the investigation of the cognitive aspects involved in the generation of ecological knowledge. Article II deals with the need to develop theoretical, methodological and empirical frameworks that avoid romanticising and idealising users’ ecological knowledge in local (LEK), indigenous (IEK) and traditional (TEK) ecological knowledge research, by rethinking it as being generated through work practices. Article III addresses the lack of studies that explicitly explore theories linking complex relations and knowledge that humans form within and of ecosystems. It also addressed the lack of attention from environmental education researchers to theory and empirical studies of ‘sense of place’ research, with a particular focus on environmental learning. Research into the question of what ecological knowledge fishers generate shows differences in their ways of knowing ecosystem complexity. These differences are explained in terms of the influences of the species being fished, and the sociocultural contexts distinguishing fishers’ connection to the fishing profession (i.e., familial tradition or entrepreneurship) (Article I), but also by the fishing strategies used (Article II). Results answering the research question of how work practices influence fishers’ knowledge of ecosystem complexity show a way of rethinking their ecological knowledge as generated in a continuous process of work (Article II), thus, far from romantic views of knowledge. Results answering the research question of how fishers’ relationships to nature influence their knowledge of ecosystem complexity demonstrate the complex interconnections between psychological processes such as identity construction, proximity maintenance and attachment to natural environments (Article III). Finally, more similarities than differences between fishers’ knowledge were found, despite the variation in cases chosen, with regards to landscape, target species, regulations systems and management strategies, fishing environments scales, as well as cultural and social contexts.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Department of Education, Stockholm University, 2016. 83 p.
Doktorsavhandlingar från Institutionen för pedagogik och didaktik, 43
small-scale fishers, informal learning, knowledge generation, systems thinking, ecological knowledge, ecosystem complexity, work practices, emotional bonds to place, sustainable fisheries management, environmental learning, Vättern, Blekinge, Baltic Sea.
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Research subject
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-133601 (URN)978-91-7649-332-8 (ISBN)
Public defence
2016-10-27, Lilla hörsalen, Naturhistoriska riksmuseet, Frescativägen 40, Stockholm, 09:00 (English)
Ecological knowledge and sustainable resource management: The role of knowledge acquisition in enhancing the adaptive capacity of co-management arrangements

At the time of the doctoral defense, the following paper was unpublished and had a status as follows: Paper 2: Manuscript.


Available from: 2016-10-04 Created: 2016-09-09 Last updated: 2016-10-07Bibliographically approved

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