In the next month, I will kick off a new required course designed for ASU’s School of Sustainability’s incoming graduate students. The course is called “Social-Ecological-Technical Systems”. This literature based seminar course will guide students in developing an integrated approach/framework for thinking about complex adaptive systems in a sustainability context. While overviews of content, theories and methods from each of the SETS domains (Social, Ecological and Technical Systems) will be presented, the primary focus will be on how to bring these domains together. The goal is to enable students to explore the SETS interfaces (intersections) from an integrated perspective and to equip students to make those linkages in their research and in subsequent elective courses.
Translated into everyday language, we hope to get students thinking in a more holistic manner across a wider range of knowledge domains. Most of the sustainability problems confronting humanity are not pure social, political, or economic in nature. Nor are they environmental problems apart from human contribution and influence. Likewise, the causes of and solutions to these problems are also not exclusively technical. Rather, they are a conflagration of these three knowledge domains. While we cannot expect anyone to be a master of all, we do hope to provide a baseline standard and recognition of how various fields inform our study of phenomena of interest and contribute to our understanding of them. As such, the course will require reading seminal literature on a wide range of topics – biodiversity conservation, ecosystem services, environmental and natural resource economics, industrial ecology, and resilience/robustness and many others. If you have suggestions for topics that we should be covering or readings that we should do, please let me know. We have a planned syllabus, but this has great scope and potential as a grand experiment.