A social-ecological perspective on conflicts and social cohesion in Southwestern Amazonia

  • Human interferences within the Earth System are accelerating, leading to major impacts and feedback that we are just beginning to understand. Summarized under the term 'global change' these impacts put human and natural systems under ever-increasing stress and impose a threat to human well-being, particularly in the Global South. Global governance bodies have acknowledged that decisive measures have to be taken to mitigate the causes and to adapt to these new conditions. Nevertheless, neither current international nor national pledges and measures reach the effectiveness needed to sustain global human well-being under accelerating global change. On the contrary, competing interests are not only paralyzing the international debate but also playing an increasingly important role in debates over social fragmentation and societal polarization on national and local scales. This interconnectedness of the natural and the social system and its impact on social phenomena such as cooperation and conflicts need to be understood better, to strengthen social resilience to future disturbances, drive societal transformation towards socially desirable futures while at the same time avoiding path dependencies along continuing colonial continuities. As a case example, this thesis provides insights into southwestern Amazonia, where the intertwined challenges of human contribution to global change in all its dimensions, as well as human adaptation and mitigation attempts to the imposed changes become exaggeratedly visible. As such, southwestern Amazonia with its high social, economic, and biological diversity is a good example to study the deep interrelations of humans with nature and the consequences these relations have on social cohesion amid an ecological crisis. Therefore, this thesis takes a social-ecological perspective on conflicts and social cohesion. Social cohesion is in a wider sense understood as the way "how members of a society, group, or organization relate to each other and work together" (Dany and Dijkzeul 2022, p. 12). In particular in contexts of violence, conflicts, and fragility, little has been investigated on the role of social cohesion to govern public goods and build resilience for (future) environmental crises. At the same time, governments and international decision-makers more and more acknowledge the role of social cohesion _ comprising both relations between social groups and between groups and the state _ to build upon resilience against crises. Facing uncertainty in how natural and social systems react to certain disturbances and shocks, the governance of potential tipping points, is an additional challenge for the governance of social-ecological systems (SES). Therefore, this thesis asks: "How does governance shape pathways towards cooperative or conflictive social-ecological tipping points?" The results of this thesis can be distinguished into theoretical/conceptual results and empirical results. Initial systematic literature research on the nexus of climate change, land use, and conflict revealed, an extensive body of literature on direct effects, for example, drought-related land use conflicts, with diverging opinions on whether global warming increases the risk for conflicts or not. Adding the perspective of indirect implications, we further identified research gaps, and also a lack of policy recognition, concerning the negative externalities on land use and conflict through climate mitigation and adaptation measures. On a conceptual note, taking a social cohesion perspective into the analysis is beneficial to shift the focus from the problem-oriented perspective of vulnerabilities and conflicts to global change and potential resulting conflicts to a solution-oriented perspective of enhancing agency and resilience to strengthen collaboration. The developed Social Cohesion Conceptual Model and the related analytical framework facilitate the incorporation of societal dynamics into the analysis of SES dynamics. In addition, the elaborated Tipping Multiverse Framework took up this idea and enhanced it with a more detailed perspective on the soil ecosystem and the household livelihood system to identify entry points to potential social-ecological tipping cascades. As such, the Tipping Multiverse Framework offered two matrices that can advance the understanding of regional SES by identifying core processes, functioning, and links in each TE and thus provide entry points to identify potential tipping cascades across SES sub-systems. The exemplified application of these two frameworks on southwestern Amazonia shows the analytical potential of both proposed frameworks in advancing the understanding of social-ecological tipping points and potential tipping cascades in a regional SES. On an empirical note, zooming in on questions of governance by applying a political ecology lens to human security, we find that 'glocal' resource governance often reproduces, amplifies, or creates power imbalances and divisions on and between different scales. Our results show that the winners of resource extraction are mostly found at the national and international scale while local communities receive little benefit and are left vulnerable to externalities. Hence, our study contributes to the existing research by stressing the importance of one underlying question: "governance by whom and for whom?" This question raised the demand to understand the underlying dynamics of resource governance and resulting conflicts. Therefore, we aimed at analyzing how (environmental) institutions influence the major drivers of social-ecological conflicts over land in and around three protected areas, Tambopata (Peru), the Extractive Reserve Chico Mendes (Brazil), and Manuripi (Bolivia). We found that state institutions, in particular, have the following effects on key conflict drivers: Overlapping responsibilities of governance institutions and limited enforcement of regulations protecting and empowering rural and disadvantaged populations, enabling external actors to (illegally) access and control resources in the protected areas. Consequently, the already fragile social contract between the residents of the protected area and its surrounding areas and the central state is further weakened by the expanding influence of criminal organizations that oppose the state's authority. For state institutions to avoid aggravating these conflict drivers but instead better manage them or even contribute to conflict prevention and mitigation, a transformation from reactive to reflexive institutions and the development of new reflexive governance competencies is needed. This need for reflexive governance becomes particularly visible when sudden disturbances or shocks impact the SES. Our analysis of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the interconnections of land use change, ecosystem services, human agency, conflict, and cooperation that the pandemic has had a severe influence on the human security of marginalized social groups in southwestern Amazonia. Civil society actions have been an essential strategy in the fight against COVID-19, not just in the health sector but also in the economic, political, social, and cultural realms. However, our research also showed that the pandemic has consolidated and partly renewed criminal structures, while the already weak state has fallen further behind due to additional tasks managing the pandemic and other disasters such as floods. In conclusion, it can be said that the reflexivity of governance is crucial to foster cooperation and preventing conflicts in the realm of social-ecological systems. By not only reacting to already occurring changes but also reflecting upon potential future changes, governance can shape transformation pathways away from the detrimental and towards life-sustaining pathways. It can do so, by exercising agency across scales to avoid the crossing of detrimental social-ecological tipping points but rather to trigger life-sustaining tipping points that contribute to global social-ecological well-being.

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Author:Rebecca FroeseORCiD
Advisor:Janpeter Schilling, Regine Schönenberg, Jürgen Scheffran
Document Type:Doctoral Thesis
Language of publication:English
Publication Date:2023/02/10
Date of Publication:2023/02/10
Publishing Institute:Rheinland-Pfälzische Technische Universität Kaiserslautern-Landau
Granting Institute:Rheinland-Pfälzische Technische Universität Kaiserslautern-Landau
Acceptance Date of the Thesis:2023/01/16
Date of the Publication (Server):2023/03/06
Tag:Amazonia; conflict; governance; political ecology; social cohesion; social-ecological systems; tipping points
Number of page:xxv, 177 Seiten
Kumulative Dissertation
Faculties / Organisational entities:Landau - Fachbereich Natur- und Umweltwissenschaften
DDC-Cassification:3 Sozialwissenschaften / 333.7 Natürliche Ressourcen, Energie und Umwelt
Licence (German):Creative Commons 4.0 - Namensnennung, nicht kommerziell, keine Bearbeitung (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)