The Historical Dynamics of Social–Ecological Traps
Environmental degradation is a typical unintended outcome of collective human behavior. Hardin’s metaphor of the “tragedy of the commons” has become a conceived wisdom that captures the social dynamics leading to environmental degradation. Recently, “traps” has gained currency as an alternative concept to explain the rigidity of social and ecological processes that produce environmental degradation and livelihood impoverishment. The trap metaphor is, however, a great deal more complex compared to Hardin’s insight. This paper takes stock of studies using the trap metaphor. It argues that the concept includes time and history in the analysis, but only as background conditions and not as a factor of causality. From a historical–sociological perspective this is remarkable since social–ecological traps are clearly path-dependent processes, which are causally produced through a conjunction of events. To prove this point the paper conceptualizes social–ecological traps as a process instead of a condition, and systematically compares history and timing in one classic and three recent studies of social–ecological traps. Based on this comparison it concludes that conjunction of social and environmental events contributes profoundly to the production of trap processes. The paper further discusses the implications of this conclusion for policy intervention and outlines how future research might generalize insights from historical–sociological studies of traps.
KeywordsSocial–ecological traps Path dependency Agricultural involution Gilded trap Dryland poverty trap Lock-in trap
We would like to thank Oonsie Biggs and Elin Enfors for taking the time to discuss ideas for this article with us. Florianne de Boer also wants to thank Oonsie Biggs for inviting her to the Stockholm Resilience Centre in May 2012. We also would like to thank Aron Hejdstöm for making Figs. 3–7, and Fredrik Moberg for Fig. 8. Wiebren Boonstra is supported by a FORMAS Project Grant (No. 2009-252). Mistra supported the research for this paper through a core grant to the Stockholm Resilience Centre. The article is based on Florianne de Boer’s BSc honours thesis “Social ecological traps and agricultural involution – Comparison of their historical establishment and reinforcing mechanisms” which she completed June 2012 at University College Utrecht, the Netherlands.
- Acheson, J.M. 1984. Government regulation and exploitive capacity: The case of the New England groundfishery. Human Organization 43: 319–329.Google Scholar
- Acheson, J.M. 2003. Capturing the commons: Devising institutions to manage the Maine lobster fisheries. Lebanon: University Press of New England.Google Scholar
- Acheson, J.M. 2011. Coming up empty: Management failure of the New England groundfishery. Maritime Studies 10: 57–86.Google Scholar
- Allison, H., and R. Hobbs. 2004. Resilience, adaptive capacity, and the “lock-in trap” of the Western Australian agricultural region. Ecology and Society 19. http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol9/iss1/art3.
- Apollonio, S., and J. Dykstra. 2008. An enormously complicated intervention: Groundfish, the New England Fishery Management Council, and the world fishery crisis. Montgomery: E-book Time.Google Scholar
- Barrett, C.B. 2008. Poverty traps and resource dynamics in smallholder agrarian systems. In Economics of poverty, environment and natural-resource use, ed. R.B. Dellink, and A. Ruijs, 212 pp. Ithaca: Springer.Google Scholar
- Carpenter, S., and W. Brock. 2008. Adaptive capacity and traps. Ecology and Society 13. http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art40/.
- Coleman, J.S. 1990. Foundations of social theory. Cambridge: Belknap.Google Scholar
- De Swaan, A. 1996. De mensenmaatschappij [Human Societies]. Amsterdam: Uitgeverij Bert Bakker.Google Scholar
- Dewey, J. 1922. Human nature and conduct. An introduction to social psychology. New York: Henry Holt and Company.Google Scholar
- Elias, N. 1978. What is sociology? London: Hutchinson.Google Scholar
- Elias, N. 1994 . The civilizing process. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
- Enfors, E., Gordon, L., Peterson, G., and D. Bossio. 2008. Making investments in dryland development work: Participatory scenario planning in the Makanya catchment Tanzania, Ecology and Society 13. http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art42/.
- Falleti, T.G. 2006. Theory-guided process-tracing: Something old, something new. APSA-CP, Newsletter of the Organized Section in Comparative Politics of the APSA 17: 9–14.Google Scholar
- Geertz, C. 1963. Agricultural involution. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
- Geist, H.J., and E.F. Lambin. 2002. Proximate causes and underlying driving forces of tropical deforestation. BioScience 52: 143–150.Google Scholar
- Gelcich, S., T.P. Hughes, P. Olsson, C. Folke, O. Defeo, M. Fernández, et al. 2010. Navigating transformations in governance of Chilean marine coastal resources. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107: 16794–16799.Google Scholar
- George, A., and A. Bennett. 2005. Case studies and theory development in the social sciences. Cambridge: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.Google Scholar
- Giddens, A. 1984. The constitution of society: Outline of the theory of structuration. Univ of California Press.Google Scholar
- Goldstone, J. 1991. Revolution and rebellion in the early modern world. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
- Janssen, M.A., and M. Scheffer. 2004. Overexploitation of renewable resources by ancient societies and the role of sunk-cost effects. Ecology and Society 9. http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol9/iss1/art6/.
- Mahoney, J., and D. Rueschemeyer. 2003. Historical comparative analysis in the social sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- McAdam, D., S. Tarrow, and C. Tilly. 2007. The dynamics of contention. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Mills, C.W. 2000 . The sociological imagination. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Pierson, P. 2004. Politics in time. History, institutions and social analysis. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
- Piore, M.J., and C.F. Sabel. 1984. The second industrial divide: Possibilities for prosperity. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
- Platt, J. 1973. Social traps. American Psychologist 28: 641–651.Google Scholar
- Scheffer, M. 2009. Critical transitions in nature and society. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
- Schwarz, H. 2004. Down the wrong path: path dependence, increasing returns and historical institutionalism. Retrieved 12 October, 2012, from http://www.google.se/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CCAQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fpeople.virginia.edu%2F~hms2f%2FPath.pdf&ei=leN3UMflIIjT4QT-n4GYAQ&usg=AFQjCNGh3zybPNsDaefG_P0Dtq4UNDqHpA&sig2=cPpALNlk0tXQUFxIj5WUdg.
- Scott, J.C. 1998. Seeing like a state. How certain schemes to improve the human condition have failed. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
- Stockholm Resilience Centre. 2011. Interaction between social and ecological feedbacks can push a system toward an undesirable state, a social–ecological trap. Retrieved 3 September, 2012, from http://www.stockholmresilience.org/news/researchinsights/insights/insight5socialecologicaltraps.5.33db2ae01355ec8e8f227d4.html.
- Thelen, K. 2003. How institutions evolve: Insights from comparative historical analysis. In Comparative historical analysis in the social sciences, ed. J. Mahoney, and D. Rueschemeyer, 468. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Van der Ploeg, J.D. 1991. Landbouw als mensenwerk [Agriculture as human work]. Couthino: Muiderberg.Google Scholar
- Van der Ploeg, J.D. 2006. Agricultural production in crisis. In Handbook of rural studies, ed. P. Cloke, T. Marsden, and P. Money, 528 pp. London: Thousand Oaks.Google Scholar
- Von Brandt, A. 1972. Revised and enlarged fish catching methods of the world. Margate: Eyre & Spottiswoode.Google Scholar
- Weber, M. 1949 . The methodology of the social sciences. Glencoe: Free Press.Google Scholar
- Whitehead, A. 1967 . Science and the modern world. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar