Course on line  (24h) – 2015 – 2021 – University of Clermont – Ferrand (ERASME) – Arnaud DIEMER

The idea that human societies are embedded in Nature, is no more challenging. What is challenging today is the representation of this embeddedness. Systemic approach – or more generally Systems theory – seems relevant to match this challenge. Systems approach means to define the questions (problematic), the limits of the system, the qualitative (hypothesis) and quantitative structure of the system, the perpective of the analysis, the actors and the controversial issues inside/outside the system, the different pathways that the system could follow.

Using systems to map and understand the interactions between Human Societies and Nature, requires a clear design of the component of the systems. Most of the time, ecological component refers to the Biosphere, a part of the planet on which life has been developed and is keeping to develop (with creation and destruction steps). Ecological component is also a set of critical resources whose flows (matter, energy) and stocks are regulated by ecological laws (Barry Commoner, 1971) and bio-chemicals cycles. Social component refers to all human activities that include economy, technology, politics and culture. This social component has not only impacts on the biosphere (that gives to humans, the responsibility to preserve and conserve the biodiversity), it’s a constitutive part of the Biosphere which transforms it both locally and globally.

Socioecological Systems emerge from these interactions such as systems are complex (a lot of interactions with many state variables), adaptative (systems change to integrate the evolution of the environment) and dynamic (many loops, non linear system, time delays).  Two central points of these interactions have been considered : (1) the key role of Ecosystem Services that we could define as the benefits that human society catches from ecosystems. Ecosystem Services include provision, regulation, cultural and spiritual services. (2) the key role of social-ecological organisation of the system that we could define as laws, norms, rules, conventions, governance, mechanisms that humans create and develop to manage the ecosystem, to make it more sustainable.

At that level, social ecological systems is a paradigm’s shift, an approach to understand the overall complexity and resilience of our ecosystem. This course is organized in five parts :

Part 1 :  Analyze the different representations of socio-ecological systems 

Three papers to read and two videos to watch.

Costanza R. (2013), A theory of Socio-ecological System Change, Journal of Bioeconomy, september, 6 p.

Schoon M., Van Der Leeuw S. (2015), The Shift toward social-ecological systems perspectives : insights into the human nature relationshipsEDP Sciences, Natures Sciences Société, vol 23, p. 166 ) 174.

Petrosillo I., Aretano R. and Zurlini G (2015), Socioecological systems, Reference Module in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences, Elsevier, 22-July-15 doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-409548-9.09518-X.

Video 1 : Stockholm Resilience Center « Socio-ecological Systems« 

Video 2 : Systems Innovation, « Socio-Ecological Systems « 

Round tables (2 x 2h) will be planned to catch the main problematic of socio-ecological systems (SWOT approach)

Part 2 : Develop integrative approaches 

Understand the different issues of socio-ecological Systems from different Schools fo thought.

Political Ecology, Deep Ecology, Environmental Ethics, Ecological Economics, Tragedy of Commons, Eco-system Based Management (EBM)

Group Meeting (2 x 2h) to present the different arguments, problematics developed by each school of thought.

A group (4 students) = One school = presentation of three slides (20 mn + questions 10 mn)

Each group has to produce a podcast (5 mn) to present each school.

Part 3 : Methodology 

Methodology introduces :

1/ System Dynamics (Forrester, 1969)  – Read the book Systems Thinking and Systems Modeling, The Sustainability Laboratory »

Understand the different steps of Systems Thinking – the concepts of loop (balancing and reinforcing), time delays…

2/ Actors and Controversial maps

3/ Scenarios (introduce the concept of Narratives for Shared Socio-Economic Pathways).

Class Meeting (4 x 2h) to introduce the methodology


Part 4 : Tools 

Integrated Tool box from system thinking (CLD, SFD), circles of social life (Ecological, Cultural, Economics and Politics) and toile maker

1/ Using CLD (Causal Loop Diagram) and SFD (Stocks and Flows Diagram) to design Socio-Ecological Systems

Develop a CLD for Wood Eco-System or Water Eco-system (With VENSIM SOFTWARE)   =>  Group of 4 students

2/ Use Application (Toile Maker)

3/ Circles of social life (Paul James, 2015)

4/ Mapping the actors and the controversial issues (with Xmid and Gephi)

5/ Introducing Scenarios (introduce the concept of Narratives for Shared Socio-Economic Pathways).

Meeting Group (3 x 1.5h) = 20 mn = 5 slides

Complementary reading : Read Timothy G. O’Higgins, Theodore H. DeWitt, and Manuel Lago (2020), Using The Concepts And Tools Of Socio-Ecological Systems, in T. G. O’Higgins et al. (eds.), Ecosystem-Based Management, Ecosystem Services and Aquatic Biodiversity,


Part 5 : Skills 

Develop a cross-matrix to map the different skills associated with Socio-ecological Systems.

Class Meeting (2 x 1.5h)

Read the article of McGinnis, M. D., and E. Ostrom. (2014). Social-ecological system framework: initial changes and continuing challenges. Ecology and Society 19(2): 30.

Read the book of Berkes, F., Colding, J., and Folke, C. (2001) Linking Social-Ecological Systems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.