Institutionalising understandings: from resource sufficiency to functional integrity

Hubert, Bernard and Ison, Ray (2011). Institutionalising understandings: from resource sufficiency to functional integrity. In: Kammili, Trish; Hubert, Bernard and Tourand, Jean-François eds. A paradigm shift in livestock management: from Resource Sufficiency to Functional Integrity. Lirac, France: Cardère éditeur, pp. 11–16.



Theoretical understandings about the nature and function of ecosystems and agroecosystems become institutionalised at particular historical moments. This process of reifying understandings in institutions leads to particular practices and policies which may outlast commitments to the understandings on which they were built. For example, two philosophical approaches to sustainability have now emerged (Thompson 1997): ‘Resource sufficiency’ stresses the measurement of the rates at which resources are used in production, distribution and consumption of food. In livestock production the issue is one of increasing efficiencies, reducing pollution and finding substitutes for scarce inputs. Understandings based on ‘resource sufficiency’ create policies that construe the ethical importance of agriculture in terms of its impacts on the welfare and rights of existing and future generations. ‘Functional integrity’ stresses the vulnerability that may arise from a lack of understanding of the systemic interactions of production practices and innovations with processes of ecological and social renewal. This understanding positions agriculture as a system, which embodies complex and poorly understood value commitments and ecosystem relationships. It gives rise to policy strategies that emphasize the preservation of capacity for resilience, the avoidance of irreversible effects and systemic understandings designed to mitigate unintended consequences. Thus the issue is one of forestalling irreversible changes in an agroecosystem while pursuing better understanding of critical trajectory-changing points.

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