Why systems of people and nature are not just social and ecological systems

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Washington, D.C.: Island Press


This chapter attempts to compare ecological systems (as perceived by ecologists), against social systems (as perceived by social scientists). The differences between the systems lie in the dimensions used to study each system. Ecological systems key dimensions are space and time. While social systems include those dimensions, a third one, symbolic construction and meaning, is also added to fully understand the system. Essentially, this third dimension significantly contributes to the difference between the two systems. It includes four elements of its own: the creation of a hierarchy of abstraction, which loosens the power of time and space, the inherent capacity of such meaning structures for reflexivity, the ability to generate expectations and look forward, and the ability of humans to externalize these symbolic constructions in technology. These elements also help to explain the fundamental lack of responsiveness or adaptability to environmental signals that characterize much of natural resource management. This chapter has merely outlined the nature of these challenges.


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Natural resource management, Social systems, Economic systems, Ecological systems, Environment, Symbolism, Reflexivity, Ecosystem