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Livelisystems: a conceptual framework integrating social, ecosystem, development, and evolutionary theory

Andrew R. Dorward, SOAS, University of London


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Human activity poses multiple environmental challenges for ecosystems that have intrinsic value and also support that activity. Our ability to address these challenges is constrained by, among other things, weaknesses in cross-disciplinary understandings of interactive processes of change in social–ecological systems. This paper draws on complementary insights from social and biological sciences to propose a “livelisystems” framework of multiscale, dynamic change across social and biological systems. This describes how material, informational, and relational assets, asset services, and asset pathways interact in systems with embedded and emergent properties undergoing a variety of structural transformations. Related characteristics of “higher” (notably human) livelisystems and change processes are identified as the greater relative importance of (a) informational, relational, and extrinsic (as opposed to material and intrinsic) assets, (b) teleological (as opposed to natural) selection, and (c) innovational (as opposed to mutational) change. The framework provides valuable insights into social and environmental challenges posed by global and local change, globalization, poverty, modernization, and growth in the anthropocene. Its potential for improving interdisciplinary and multiscale understanding is discussed, notably by examination of human adaptation to biodiversity and ecosystem service change following the spread of Lantana camera in the Western Ghats, India.

Key words

environmental change; livelisystems; social–ecological systems

Copyright © 2014 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087