Eike Martina Holzkämper, Universität – Bremen

The role of social networks for adopting innovative production techniques as a response to environmental change

Abrupt shifts in social-ecological systems affect the availability of natural resources and ecosystem services, with often severe consequences for ecosystem-dependent households and communities. Forced to adjust their livelihood strategies, the frequently poor users of natural resources adapt in different ways – bounded by the opportunities (or lack thereof) that their social networks generate.

This recently started PhD project will analyse coastal ecosystem user communities’ adaptation strategies to abrupt shifts in their natural environment. In each of the envisaged case studies across the globe, coastal populations have experienced a shift in livelihood-relevant conditions of their coastal and marine environment. In Bangladesh, salinity intrusion causes traditional aquaculture and agriculture methods to fail. In India and Brazil, mussel fishers are faced with a local mass mortality of their respective target species.

There is a need for new production technologies and their implementation, adapted to the now altered conditions in many coastal areas. This study identifies why some households engage with innovative techniques and others not. Applying a social network perspective, the proposed study will assess the character and dynamics of those social network structures that influence how affected coastal communities adapt to the changes.

This knowledge offers a better understanding of how to support coastal communities’ transformation processes towards sustainability in ways that address, or at least do not exacerbate, poverty and inequality issues. The project will (1.) generate new knowledge on the relation between different social network types and environmental and social outcomes and the associated transition processes under conditions of abrupt change. It will (2.) open up avenues for identifying the role of social networks for transformative change on the global level by developing a model on how the structure of social networks relates to social processes relevant for adaptation to environmental changes. On the implementation side, results will (3.) show how to leverage communities’ transition towards environmental and social sustainability in times of abrupt change by employing a network perspective combined with participatory approaches.