Resilience in Socio-Ecological Systems

MW 1:30-3:20, Denny 401

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1. Key Concepts
2. Key Concepts Cont.
3. Sustainability
4. China Example
5. Commons
6. Anthropology
7. Management
8. Critiques
9. Resonances

The Resilience Alliance
Ecology and Society

Instructor: Stevan Harrell
Professor of Anthropology
Professor of Environmental and Forest Sciences
Director, UWWorldwide Sichuan University Exchange Program
Adjunct Professor of Chinese, Department of Asian Languages and Literature
Adjunct Curator of Asian Ethnology, Burke Museum
Faculty Associate, Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology

In recent years, ecological scientists and social scientists have begun to examine several ways in which their theoretical models are similar at a meta-level, and also to look at ways in which new theoretical concepts and models can apply to both fields. In particular, the concept of resilience, and the associated model of the adaptive cycle, originally developed by C.S. (Buzz) Holling, have promised both theoretical and substantive integration of social and ecological systems.

This is thus an exciting time for scientists interested in cross-disciplinary interaction and in cross-fertilization between disciplines. It is also a time when it is becoming clearer and clearer that the [ecological] earth system and the [socio-political] world system (to borrow the title of one of our textbooks) are in danger of crossing a threshold of irreparable damage, and that the health and survival of one depends on the health and survival of the other. New concepts such as resilience theory are thus timely as well as intellectually exciting.

At the same time, we must be careful and critical. Is resilience theory a real contribution toward saving the world, or is just old wine in new bottles, new words for the same old things? Is it a valuable tool for action, or just a fuzzy-headed, ivory-tower set of slogans that we can't apply to real-world situations? The proof is in the application.

This course is an opportunity for curious and open-minded ecologists, anthropologists, planners, and others to join me in a rigorous but free-wheeling exploration of these concepts and their application. We will spend approximately the first five or six weeks of the quarter reading the classic and not-so-classic texts from the resilience tradition, and then take the last half of the quarter for each of us to try to apply these concepts to a particular case-study that involves the interaction of the ecosystem and the socio-political system. Students should emerge from the quarter with a better sense of whether and how resilience theory is a useful tool for them.