Archive for October, 2013

Social-Ecological Systems and the Concept of Territoire

Over the past 10 days, I had the good fortune of participating in two Workshops – one on transboundary conservation and the other on social-ecological systems.  For the moment, I’d like to discuss a bit of the conversation at the latter.  I had the honor of serving as a keynote speaker to one of the warm-up events for the Resilience 2014 conference in Montpellier, France next year (May 4-8, see  The workshop title was “Confronting “socio-ecological systems” and “territoire” as suitable lenses to tackle resilience issues”.  It attempted to combine the work of resilience scholars, such as myself, and our work on complex adaptive systems/resilience/coupled human-environment systems with the work of (predominantly) French geographers and anthropologists using territoire to analyze a similar set of problems.

I learned a great deal about territoire and how this guides analysis and understanding.  What surprised me the most was the amount that the two approaches had in common – the importance of scale, of socio-spatial relations, and the linking of people and their environment.  I had expected a great deal more discussion coming from a post-structural, post-modern, Foucaultian analysis, which I must say that I’m not smart enough to truly understand.  Instead, the discussion revolved around all of the similarities in approaches.

A number of points emerged, however, that warrant further discussion, points that will hopefully come out of the proceedings from the workshop.  At least these were the five main take-aways for me.

  • Both social-ecological systems and territoire approaches share a number of important commonalities (as related above).
  • The drawing of boundaries for analysis is critical to enable understanding in either approach.
  • Many social-ecological system analyses seem to favor one aspect of the system over the other – often heavily SOCIAL-ecological or social-ECOLOGICAL.  Balanced approaches are far less common.
  • The theme for the Resilience 2014 conference – Resilience and Development – fits well with key traits implicit in the territoire scholarship, notably poverty, inequality, and the need for development.
  • Resilience scholars need to do a better job at more explicitly acknowledging the normative aspects of their work.

I had initially intended to write about this final discussion point, given other recent research projects, but I’d like to revisit this in more detail in the coming weeks.  For now, here’s my introduction to French geography.

More thoughts on Open Access Journals

Recently an article in Science surveyed open access journals and found a number of distressing findings with respect to the peer review process.  An overview is available at:

The original version in Science is at:

As the Science article acknowledges, the same results could be found if we did a survey of traditional journals as well.  However, this was not done.  It would be interesting to see the results if PLOS One or another leading open access journal surveyed the traditional journal field.  Clearly, open access has opened the gates of “for profit” publishing wider, but I know of no serious academic that would either publish in such disreputable journals or seriously consider their work as quality research.  However, the Science article buries the problem with academic publishing beneath the castigating byline on the perils of open access journals.  While the pay for publication practices of some OA journals are clearly problematic, so is the traditional model of publishing, which is clearly broken.  Resting on the free labor of academics, publishing houses are currently reaping substantial profits.  These outfits are often slow (cutting research appearing years after the fact), exclusive (charges of $50+ for a typical article), and Western country-biased.  None of these four issues is mentioned in the original article, and none of these is necessary any more.  They can and are being addressed – mostly through Open Access publications.

Personally, I am closely involved with a few open access journals (and a few traditional journals as well), and they do a great job at ameliorating these problems without the shortcomings noted in the article.  The International Journal of the Commons is double-blind peer-reviewed by 3 reviewers (at minimum), has an editorial board of highly reputable and energetic scholars, and is supported by both the ISI Web of Science and Scopus, the two leading academic journal indexing bodies.  It is also free to download our articles, with most articles attracting hundreds or thousands of downloads.  It makes articles immediately available on our website without the wait for quarterly or semi-annual issues.  In addition, many of our readers, contributing authors, and reviewers are from developing countries with limited access to the traditional published journals.  IJC eliminates the problems of so many traditional publications without sacrificing high quality or reviewing standards.  My experience with Ecology and Society is the same on all counts.

Before jumping to conclusions and throwing all OA journals into the fire, let’s run the same test on traditional journals.  Then we can go back and focus on what’s important – high quality scholarship.  From there, we can look to the other problems that I’ve mentioned – speed, cost, and access.