A Global Conversation: What is biocultural diversity, and why should we care?


In the last SES Global Conversation of this semester, the focus was on biocultural diversity. Jan Hanspach, Camila Benavides Frias and Stefan Ortiz Przychodzka led the session asking: What is biocultural diversity, and why should we care? The session began questioning what we associate with biocultural diversity, which largely focussed on foods, traditions, place-based practices, local knowledge and history.

From there on, Jan Hanspach explained the definitions of biocultural diversity, from broad to more narrow definitions that discuss the complexities and interdependency of cultural and biological diversity. He emphasised that biocultural diversity incorporates cultural practices, knowledge, worldviews and ontologies. Such knowledge and relationships affect language and vice versa, and Hanspach argued that humans are not separate from nature, they have a long history of interaction and co-evolution and this is reflected in our languages and cultures. Common threats exist to biological and cultural diversity, such as rapidly changing systems and…

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Examining institutions for food security in Ethiopia: What does the leverage points perspective reveal?


Food security has been a growing issue throughout the 21st century, and despite strong efforts to tackle this, universal food security remains a challenge. This is largely due to the fact that interventions for food security tend to take place at different levels of depth in the system, thus hitting different ‘leverage points’ as described by Meadows (1999). Some interventions tend to target gaps in food supply, whereas others highlight systemic issues in the food system. Therefore, Jiren et al. (2021) used the leverage points perspective to determine how types of shallow or deep interventions in food systems in Ethiopia could interact. Additionally, they aimed to understand where it would be best to intervene to improve food security in the most effective way.

Smallholder-dominated rural landscape in southwestern Ethiopia. Credits: Girma Shumi.

The authors focused on a case study of southwestern Ethiopia in order to examine current changes in…

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A global conversation on social-ecological systems: what happened so far…

By Joern Fischer

In October last year, our institute started a series of global conversations on social-ecological systems. Please find below three videos of what has happened so far in this series. Follow SESLeuphana on Twitter to stay tuned about future sessions! The next event coming up is at 2 pm German time on Thursday 10 February — on biocultural diversity.

October 21 2021: Starting a conversation: key themes of social-ecological systems research at Leuphana University

18 November 2021: A caring ethos in transdisciplinary sustainability science & social-ecological systems research

27 January 2022: Fostering environmental justice in area-based conservation approaches

A Global Conversation: How can we foster environmental justice and equity in protected area management?


Protected marine and land areas around the globe have been increasing in number and area since the 1990s, as their importance due to ecosystem services and cultural values become clearer. Protected areas are geographical spaces that are dedicated to long-term conservation of nature using management tools such as legal frameworks. There are goals to increase protected areas to cover 30% of all land and sea globally. However, a large part of this goal is to ensure that these areas are conserved with effective and equitable management and be well-connected with each other and their wider landscapes. It is with this in mind that the SES Global Conversation on ‘Fostering Environmental Justice in Area-based Conservation’ took place.  

This conversation was hosted by Jacqueline Loos of Leuphana University, who introduced the definitions and goals of area-based conservation and protected areas and led the discussion. To begin this Conversation, the question, “Can…

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Disaggregating ecosystem services for natural resource management and sustainability: why and how?


In recent years, the concept of ecosystem services has gained traction and has become an important framework for understanding human-nature relations, ecological health, and human wellbeing. Most ecosystem service assessments are aggregated, which can be highly beneficial for estimating the overall value of nature for people, but can also obscure issues of inter and intra-generational equity. Brück et al. (2021) therefore discuss the weaknesses of aggregated assessments and hope to encourage disaggregation in ecosystem services research and policymaking.

The authors defined disaggregated ecosystem service assessments as analyses of ecosystem services by a certain theme, looking at who benefits, from which values, where and when. In their paper, they aimed to produce a systematic approach to the disaggregation of ecosystem service assessments which can support more sustainable and equitable ecosystem service use.

Firstly, Brück et al. (2021) identified four main equity issues that may be “hidden” in aggregate ecosystem assessments: intragenerational…

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Sustainability transformations: fostering co-productive agility through four collaborative pathways


Recently, co-production and transformation have become more common phrases in sustainability science. However, current co-production frameworks often focus on achieving predetermined aims, rather than focussing on the process. Much attention has been given to understanding transformative frames and creating approaches, however the ways in which tensions and conflicts can be navigated in these processes is not well researched. Chambers et al. (2021) therefore looked to current co-production initiatives, to explore how tensions were navigated, and discover “co-productive agility” as a method of broadening collective pathways to sustainable futures.

Figure 1. Co-productive agility for sustainability transformations. (Chambers et al. 2021).

Chambers et al. (2021) refer to co-productive agility, which is the ability of diverse stakeholders to engage in dialogues and create shared ideas and actions that may not have otherwise been possible. This concept involves the embedding of knowledge production in change processes and can reveal pathways to transformation. The authors…

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The Art of Systems Thinking – Christopher Chase

As 2022 is only just starting, it’s a very suitable time to zoom out and scale up. With his permission, I’m re-blogging a post by Christopher Chase here that helps us do precisely that! Enjoy, be sure to visit his blog, and happy new year everyone!

Creative by Nature

“Principles for the development of a complete mind: Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses- especially learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.” ―Leonardo da Vinci

Here below are high quality reproductions of some of the “best” artwork and illustrations that I have produced over the last 40 years, most of it during the 1980s and 1990s. I don’t have an artist’s page where these can be purchased, but please feel free to download, print out and share with others, no payment required.

The originals were mostly about 10 x 14 inches (26 X 35 cm) in size. You are free to print out and put up anywhere, any size, framed or unframed, with magnets or tape, on refrigerators or walls. My only request is that you do not sell them or publish without contacting me first.

Is there a…

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What have we done in 2021? Celebrating a year of research in the Social-Ecological Systems Institute


2021 has seen many successes and causes to celebrate within the Social-Ecological Systems Institute (SESI) at Leuphana University and across its collaborations, along with the challenges that emerge from conducting research in a pandemic. This year we have worked hard in SESI to understand and respond to a wide range of social-ecological challenges. In doing so, we have provided better understandings of social-ecological interactions and leverage points that can improve sustainability and justice.

Some of the social-ecological systems in which SESI researchers work.

People in SESI have conducted research on six main topics throughout this year: biodiversity conservation, ecosystem services and nature’s contributions to people, relational values, biocultural diversity, cross-scale governance, and leverage points and transformation. Our blog this year has featured many of the publications and projects targeting those six topics.

Biodiversity conservation has been a central focus for SESI researchers, who have worked in both the Global North…

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How can we create more caring knowledge production? Linking transdisciplinary sustainability science and feminist research approaches in an ethos of care.


Transdisciplinary sustainability science has grown in recent years as a potential answer to sustainability problems and can improve collaborative knowledge production. However, within schools of feminist thought, care structures and relational ethics are seen as significant. Therefore, to increase its transformative potential, transdisciplinary sustainability science needs to consider and combat unequal power relations and top-down scientific constructs. Staffa et al. (2021) aim to contribute to this convergence of feminist and transdisciplinary sustainability knowledge production, by incorporating critical research approaches into the design of transdisciplinary research.

Staffa et al. (2021) were inspired by the feminist ethos of care created by Puig de la Bellacasa (2012), and therefore aimed to apply this to transdisciplinary sustainability science to provide guidance for researchers and helping them to generate critical-emancipatory knowledge. Despite some overlap in these fields, the authors argued that questions of power dynamics, domination and hierarchies in research are often overlooked in transdisciplinary…

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How should we assess protected area effectiveness? Presenting an outcome-oriented, social-ecological framework.


Biodiversity is threatened across the world, and stopping this loss is likely the biggest challenge humanity faces today. Protected areas are used to manage and improve biodiversity but assessing their effectiveness is complex, especially when goals for protected areas become more diverse. Now differing ecological, economic, cultural, and development goals of protected areas have resulted in various indicators and methods for evaluation of effectiveness but multifaceted assessments are yet lacking. Therefore, in a recent paper published in BioScience journal, Ghoddousi et al. (2021) argued that a more holistic and clearer definition of protected area effectiveness is needed, that includes multiple protected area outcomes. The authors created a conceptual framework that is outcome-oriented, multidimensional, and grounded in social-ecological theory.

Protected areas were initially created to maintain ‘wilderness’ and limit extraction, however more and more multiple-use landscapes are promoted as protected areas worldwide to foster sustainable use of natural resources. Therefore, the…

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