Not just another variable: untangling the spatialities of power in social ecological systems

Ingalls, Micah L. (2017). Not just another variable: untangling the spatialities of power in social ecological systems. Ecology and Society, 22(3) Resilience Alliance Publications 10.5751/ES-09543-220320

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ncreased attention has been paid to how the spatial dimensions of social–ecological systems are formative in shapingtheir ability to negotiate change and remain resilient. This paper moves this research further by exploring how diverse forms of powerplay a crucial role in shaping these spatial dimensions and the production of social–ecological outcomes. Grounding these explorationsin a National Protected Area in Lao PDR, this paper explores how power relationships operate through the spatial and temporaldomains of complex systems. Findings suggest (at least) four important insights: (1) the exercise of power materializes in policies andprograms and becomes written onto the spaces of social–ecological systems through boundary creation, zonation, and other socialprocesses that (re)define spatial meanings; these meanings vary by social actor; (2) policies and programs map out unevenly acrossspace and time as they interact with antecedent social–ecological conditions in ways that preclude linear causal relationships betweenpolicy and outcomes; (3) although local in their expression, spatialized disputes in social–ecological systems draw on cross-scalardiscourses and networks of power to bolster, undermine, and (de)legitimize competing environmental and social narratives; and (4)however powerful institutions and actor-networks may be, they are never fully hegemonic as they are attenuated by other discoursesand operations of power, although these all play out across a highly uneven sociopolitical terrain. Paying greater attention to the spatialand temporal dynamics of power may be much more than a project of introducing yet another variable into the already complexadmixture of analytic elements. Rather, by rendering these explicit as objects of analysis, common insights may change entirely or evenbe overturned.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


10 Strategic Research Centers > Centre for Development and Environment (CDE)

UniBE Contributor:

Ingalls, Micah




Resilience Alliance Publications




Stephan Schmidt

Date Deposited:

30 Jun 2020 14:47

Last Modified:

30 Jun 2020 14:47

Publisher DOI:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

conflict; governance; Lao PDR; protected area; social–ecological systems; spatial resiliences




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