Modulating contingency in explanations of path-dependent maladaptive traps in social-ecological systems – The case of Doñana

“…or a second iteration into a theoretical, empirical and transdisciplinary exploration of the policy and institutional conditions needed for successful sustainability transitions in social-ecological systems…with an abstract focus on the significance of randomness, time and history in neoclassical economics and institutional path dependence studies.”

[The following content is not original, it has been extracted and slightly modified from our most recent publication. Comments are open in Medium]

Sustainability transitions must be guided by a sound understanding of the architecture of the policy and institutional designs of both the process of change and the target outcome. Our most recent article contributes to current research on the institutional conditions necessary for successful sustainability transitions in social-ecological systems, addressing two interrelated theoretic-analytical questions through an in-depth case study. First, we focus on the need for enhanced historical causal explanations of social-ecological systems stuck in maladaptive traps at present. Second, we focus on the explanatory potential of several factors for shaping maladaptive outcomes, at two different levels of analysis: political-economic interests, prevailing discourses and power, at a contextual level, and institutional entrepreneurship, at an endogenous level. In particular, we address that explanatory potential when the core logic of path dependence, consisting of neoclassical economics principles, fails to predict maladaptive outcomes in a historical, evolutionary perspective. Prior to describing our case, let us explain under what paradoxical conditions that failure ensues (see Fig. 1 for graphical guidance).

Figure 1. Graphical idealization of the concept of path dependence and the epistemological paradox created by the notion of contingency at its core, departing from the concept of path independence. For simplification purposes, process/outcome dynamics have been depicted using sinusoids


Closing cycles

As part of a closing research cycle, we have recently presented a summary of our work developed in Doñana during the past thirteen years at the last ESP European Conference 2018 (San Sebastián, Spain). This is a closing, not an end, with more exciting work underway in collaboration with maverick researchers untiringly trying to change the old ways of doing things. As part of a new path, I also would like to (re)launch this blog and share my knowledge and experiences. More content on social-ecological research and institutional analysis to come soon...meanwhile, I hope that you enjoy this summary poster telling our story in Doñana.

Following the kaizen route

Poster graphic design by enestudiografico.com