Social-ecological resilience and planning: an interdisciplinary exploration

University dissertation from Stockholm : Department of Systems Ecology, Stockholm University

Abstract: Despite considerable expansion in the scope and function of the state with respect to environmental protection, the world’s biological diversity and ecosystem services continue to deteriorate. Finding ways to better govern human-nature relations in cities is an important part of addressing this decline. The aim of this thesis is to explore the potential of social-ecological resilience to inform urban governance in theory and practice, through a focus on strategic spatial planning. Resilience has become an increasingly important urban policy discourse and much hope is placed in its potential to improve urban governance. However, there is an acknowledged gap between social-ecological resilience as an ideal and the ability to govern towards it in practice. At the time this doctoral research commenced there had been no engagement with social-ecological resilience in the planning theory literature and minimal engagement by empirical planning research. It is to this gap the thesis contributes. Social-ecological resilience scholarship is found to offer planning theory a partly new way of understanding complex human-nature relations. This is relevant to calls by planning theorists for more attention to matters of substance, including ecological processes. With respect to practice, planners see potential for social-ecological resilience to critically inform strategic spatial planning, including through the framing of problems, tools for analysis/synthesis and governance options. There are also however, lessons for social-ecological resilience scholarship that emerge from the detailed empirical research which suggests that attention to the politics of the everyday activities of administrators, elected officials, planning officials, conservationists and citizens operating within the so-called ‘mangle of practice’ is critical to explaining the gap between the ideal of governing for urban resilience, and what happens in practice.