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The Effect of Infrastructure on Social-Ecological System Dynamics: Provision Thresholds and Asymmetric Access

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Type: Working Paper
Author: Yu, David J.; Qubbaj, Murad R.; Muneepeerakul, Rachata; Anderies, John M.
Date: 2014
Agency: Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity, Tempe, AZ
Series: CSID Working Papers no. 2014-007
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/9612
Sector: General & Multiple Resources
Water Resource & Irrigation
Subject(s): collective action
social-ecological systems
Abstract: "For several millennia, humans have created built environments to harness natural processes for their benefit. Today, human-environment interactions are mediated extensively by physical infrastructure in both rural and urban environments. Yet studies of social-ecological systems (SESs) have not paid sufficient attention to how infrastructure influences coupled natural and social processes. This misses an important point: critical infrastructure is often a public good that depends on cooperation of the agents who share it. Using a model of an irrigation system (the most ancient of public infrastructure systems) as a testing ground, we found that two properties of infrastructure, threshold of provision and asymmetric access to benefits, can cause fundamental changes in the long-term dynamics of SESs. We also found some design implications for robust/resilient human-natural-engineered systems that can maintain vital functions in the face of unexpected shocks, something that has been missing in general from the broad literature.Understanding how small scale irrigation SESs may respond to infrastructure changes and globalization-related stresses is relevant for agricultural policy and our results provide some general guidance in this regard."

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