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 http://www.resilience2014.org/).  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.

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