Environmental cyber-systemic governance and social processes

Ison, R. L. and Schlindwein, S. (2014). Environmental cyber-systemic governance and social processes. In: WOSC 16th Congress (WOSC 2014), 15-17 Oct 2014, Ibagué, Colombia.


The prevailing paradigm in the governance of the relationship between humans and the biophysical world is characterized by joint commitments to scientism and dualistic thinking. As a consequence humans not only have become divorced from their biophysical environment but their relationship with it has been characterized by systematic, rather than systemic, control attempts. Therefore currently governance, if understood as enacting cybernetic processes that maintain the quality of relationships between humans and the biosphere, can be seen to be failing on many fronts. Examples of governance situations where this occurs are the governance of water catchments and of land use planning, since in these situations governance normally has been focused on the management of features of the biophysical world (for instance in practices of natural resources management based on quantitative approaches) instead of fostering processes towards the improvement of the quality of the relationships between humans and the biophysical world. A good example is the loss of confidence, almost universal now across the globe, that rivers are safe places for swimming by children (the young of the mammal Homo sapiens). Importantly this is not a loss of amenity, but a diminution of the quality of being human.
However, momentum is now growing to address the limitations of this paradigm in the face of a worsening global environmental crisis that threatens water and food security as well as accelerating loss of many vital ecosystems services. Further, this crisis might have unprecedented social consequences triggering dramatic effects like unemployment, migration, outbreak of diseases, affecting the social and productive structure of whole regions. This ‘problematique’ raises two significant questions for praxis: (i) what form of praxis might best contribute to paradigm shift in these circumstances, considering that we may also lack conceptual, institutional and practical tools to move in new directions? and (ii) what constraints and possibilities does a conception of an environmental cyber-systemic governance offer to praxis innovations that offer an effective break with dualistic thinking and acting in the governance of socio-ecological systems? These questions frame an invitation for a systemic inquiry into forms of governance more suited to the contemporary circumstances of humans in their relationships with the biophysical world, and to the need of developing socio-environmental technologies in ways that do not constraint innovations and change, enabling the socio-ecological transformations that are sought. The inquiry purpose is to invent ways of acting in theory-informed ways (i.e., praxis) that gives rise to systemic and adaptive governance at levels ranging from the international to the program or project. In other words, the more general purpose of such a systemic inquiry is to contribute to building innovative environmental governance approaches (for instance through institutional design for cyber-systemic governance) that are more systemic and adaptive. Furthermore, such an inquiry might also contribute to an improved, holistic understanding of socio-ecological systems and how to transform them by fostering new understandings and practices.

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