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Complex Systems Approach to Pastoral Commons

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Robinson, Lance W.
Conference: Governing Shared Resources: Connecting Local Experience to Global Challenges, the Twelfth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Commons
Location: Cheltenham, England
Conf. Date: July 14-18, 2008
Date: 2008
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/2138
Sector: Social Organization
Region: Africa
Subject(s): complex systems
adaptive systems
water resources
Abstract: "Recent years have seen the emergence of a new approach in commons scholarship that draws on complex systems thinking, and that makes use of concepts such as fit, scale, and the adaptive renewal cycle. This paper explores what complex systems thinking has to offer for commons scholarship by applying these concepts to the pastoral commons of the Gabra ethnic group of north-central Kenya. The concepts of fit and scale can help us to understand why some features of the Gabras' institutional regime do not conform to mainstream principles such as clearly defined boundaries, clearly defined membership rules, and subsidiarity. The notion of the adaptive renewal cycle can help us to describe and understand some aspects of dynamics of Gabra institutions, especially those institutions related to the management of shallow wells. Applying the adaptive renewal cycle to larger and longer scales highlights the possibility that the Gabra social-ecological system is becoming increasingly brittle, with evolving institutional arrangements putting more and more constraints on adaptation and especially on nomadic mobility. An examination of the distinctive nature of dryland pastoral commons, and in particular, a complex systems approach to this examination, suggests a number of issues that relief and development organizations should consider, including how to foster novelty and innovation through all the phases of the adaptive cycle. Such an examination can also provide insights for those who are studying and working on problems associated with global commons, suggesting for example that some degree of institutional fuzziness, overlap, and plurality may sometimes be preferable to 'neat', unitary accords."

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