By Joern Fischer
Some time ago, my friend and colleague Adrian Manning led a paper on “landscape fluidity”. We defined it as the ebb and flow of organisms through space and time. An important point in our paper was it is inevitable that systems change — but it may be desirable to maintain certain system properties through time, rather than the specific system components. So, for example, having a high amount of forest, or a high level of landscape heterogeneity might be generic landscape properties that one may (or may not) want to maintain through time, despite environmental change.
Today I wondered if this might also apply to social systems. And ultimately, to social-ecological systems.
I’m currently reading “Ancient Futures”, which is interesting in a number of ways. But what I found particularly interesting is that there are similarities in the social system of the Himalayan Ladakh pepole (which the book “Ancient Futures” talks about) and what I have learnt in Romania about traditional Saxon society. For example, there is a strategic mix of individual ownership of land and communal ownership (for pastures) and communal labour (for harvesting); there is virtually no waste but everything is re-used and re-cycled; and despite there being large amounts of work there appears to be a lot of spare time for things like festivals.
This made me wonder if there are generic properties that characterise social systems. And if some of those properties are “good”, then perhaps one could have “social fluidity” — recognising that things will always change, but that there are certain system properties that are worth maintaining through time …
A key challenge will be to find ways to upscale this notion from local scales (e.g. the Ladakh people or the Saxon area) to the global scale. The big difference is that systems are no longer closed, but globally connected.
Anyway, just a few rambles! Key point: are there generic ecosystem properties and social properties (or maybe even social-ecological properties) that are worth maintaining, and that could be maintained while still allowing for change — is there such a thing a social-ecological fluidity, and could this be a helpful concept?