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The action cycle/structural context framework: a fisheries application

D.G. Webster, Dartmouth College


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There is a growing consensus that environmental governance is a wicked problem that requires understanding of the many linkages and feedbacks between human and natural systems. Here, I propose an action cycle/structural context (AC/SC) framework that is based on the concept of responsive governance, in which individuals and decision makers respond to problems rather than working to prevent them. By linking agency and structure, the AC/SC framework points out two key problems in the realm of environmental governance: the profit disconnect, whereby economic signals of environmental harm are dampened by endogenous or exogenous forces, and the power disconnect, whereby those who feel the costs of harm are politically marginalized and so have little influence to effect solutions. I apply this framework to fisheries to develop hypotheses regarding exclusionary and conservation-oriented responses under different power/profit dynamics. These expectations are tested in a historical case study of management of the lobster fishery in Maine. The analysis confirms the importance of profit/power dynamics and reveals that governance tends to go through effective and ineffective cycles in a management treadmill that can be driven by internal or external forces. The latter in particular are generally ignored in fisheries management but could ultimately undermine sustainability even in previously well-managed systems.

Key words

complexity; environmental governance; fisheries; social-ecological systems

Copyright © 2015 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