Environmental conflicts: Towards theoretical analyses of social- ecological systems

Natural resource use conflicts: The research problems

Empirical knowledge from conflict research and theoretical concepts from social-ecological theory are used in this chapter to discuss the possibilities of resolving environmental and natural resource use conflicts. In the discourse of sustainable development in science and politics it became necessary to deal with the difficulty that sustainable development remained an idea with many different interpretations, and to reflect the connections between the terms of conflict and sustainability. The social-ecological perspective and terminology can be useful for the clarification of the concepts and for interdisciplinary knowledge integration: social ecology studies the interaction between social and ecological systems empirically and theoretically, e.g., with the concept of coupled social-ecological systems. Framing the analysis of environmental conflicts in such analyses of systems helps to study the contexts generating or influencing environmental conflicts more systematically, thus creating chances for improved conflict mitigation.

In the discourse of sustainable development conflicts are a marginal theme; sustainability appears as a diffuse idea for which no consensus can be achieved in science or politics (Bruckmeier, 2009; 2016, p. 125 cont; Princen, 2010; Wull- weber, 2015). The idea of intra- and inter-generational solidarity remains abstract; it does not provide a conceptual basis for the integration of the manifold and different forms of conflicts studied in empirical research. The generalised intergenerational resource use conflict implied in sustainable development does not appear and cannot be mitigated as such, only in manifold activities, through more limited, local and actor-specific conflicts. It is necessary to specify conflicts, their causes, courses, consequences, contexts and forms of resolution, thus showing that the creation of solidarity requires — continuously - the resolving of resource use conflicts. Interpreting sustainability as a ‘win-win solution’ for everyone’s advantage seems to ignore the manifold conflicts on the way towards sustainability. After the report ‘The Limits to Growth’ (Meadows and Meadows, 1972), the global overuse and scarcity of key resources was discussed as a conflict- related theme, for example, the overfishing of the oceans, the deforestation of tropical rain forests, the scarcity of oil and agricultural land and further natural resources. In this context sustainability appears as enforced by multiple conflicts about access to and use of resources.

Environmental conflict research intensified after 1990, especially in the political sciences, with the security and scarcity themes (Toronto school of conflict research: Homer-Dixon, 1999; Swiss ENCOP-Project: Spillmann, 1995; Bachler, 1999). In the debate about global change, including climate change, it became clear that the connected processes of social and environmental change resulted in intensifying conflicts, even militarisation of resource conflicts, wars and civil wars (Gleditsch, 2004; Welzer, 2008; Dyer, 2011). The broadening of conflict research was accompanied by new practices of conflict resolution, e.g., mediation or various forms of informal conflict resolution. Nature and causes of conflicts, larger societal contexts of the transition to sustainability in which conflicts happen, and design of policies and strategies of conflict mitigation: these themes require interdisciplinary knowledge synthesis, moreover, theoretical analyses of the interaction of nature and society and the coupling of social and ecological systems.

Conflicts between different interests and aims of humans as resource users have nonnative meanings all the way from the emergence to the resolution: conflicts may be rooted in different worldviews, cultural values and social norms, in specific material interests, and in basic human needs such as food, shelter and health. In the political discourse and in policy processes, conflicts appear in nonnative views and interpretations — through the attribution of interests, claims, aspirations, rights of access to and property of resources, perceptions and valuations of conflicting parties, owners or citizens. In conflict mitigation, the nonnative dimensions are visible in the struggles about definition, interpretation, aspiration, legitimation, rejection of claims and interests, and contestation of fonnal or informal norms.

To deal with the inherent normativity of conflicts more is required than the identification of worldviews, cultural values or clashes of values of the conflicting parties. How is mutual recognition, cooperation and mitigation possible, when the conflicts are rooted in the structures and processes of complex social and ecological systems? To find answers, the knowledge basis, the concepts and the methodological problems of environmental conflict research are described below; the knowledge used is from different disciplines, methods of conflict research and conflict resolution, and integrative theories. The recently developing discourse of social-ecological transformation gives a possibility for the further integration of conflict research, including the broader societal contexts of resource use conflicts.

The knowledge basis of environmental conflict research

Specialised environmental conflict research includes psychology, sociology, cultural anthropology, social geography, political science, economics, human ecology, peace and development research, and a field of interdisciplinary environmental conflict research with inexact contours. Except their quality as social-scientific research, the fields of conflict research do not have much in common. Within the disciplines conflict research can be found at sub-disciplinary levels, research where the complexity of conflicts is fragmented through extreme specialisation. This implies two difficulties for environmental conflict research: to deal with the multi-dimensional social and ecological aspects of conflicts, and with interdisciplinary knowledge synthesis.

Empirical research — the phenomenology of resource use conflicts

Conflicts about natural resources appear as conflicts between persons, smaller or larger social, cultural, political and economic groups, organisations or institutions. The resource concept, although specified in types of natural resources, is a broad and inexact economic and ecological term. Studying resource use in environmental conflicts shows the necessity to specify the natural and social resources involved. Sometimes the classes of resources are differentiated as forms of capital (social, cultural, human, economic, financial, natural capital). Such metaphorical notions do not create a more operational terminology; rather they add further abstract terminologies and classifications to the ones existing.

The examples and studies of conflicts of natural resource use in this book illustrate important and recurring conflict forms known from many countries. To describe and analyse such conflicts more systematically requires the concepts summarised in Box 13.1.

Box 13.1 Concepts for empirical studies of environmental and resource use conflicts

The following synopsis differentiates three perspectives for the conceptual

framing of conflict analyses: nature of conflicts in terms of scales and

resource types, types of actors involved and their perceptions, and processes

and procedures to describe the course of conflicts and their resolution.

Scope of conflicts and resource types

  • 1 Scales and political levels of the conflicts: local, regional, national and transboundary or international, multi-scale and global conflicts
  • 2 Natural resources that give rise to conflicts: biotic resources including living and organic material; abiotic resources including water, air, soils, metals; biodiversity; renewable and non-renewable resources
  • 3 Social resources: economic, especially money and capital; political, especially power and influence; legal, especially ownership rights and citizen rights; different forms of knowledge; cultural ideas and perceptions, especially worldviews

Actors - their perceptions and views

  • 4 Actors or stakeholders: local, national and international political actors and organisations, including governmental and non-governmental organisations; private and public, national and international enterprises; civil society associations including social and environmental movements; cultural and religious institutions; professional associations, associations for nature protection, producer and consumer associations, scientific organisations, and others
  • 5 Secondary stakeholders: many resource use conflicts are not limited to two conflicting parties, but include a larger number of stakeholders that position themselves in a conflict, although they are not directly affected (e.g., local inhabitants, interest groups, professional associations and associations for nature protection, political parties, scientific organisations)
  • 6 Perception and definition of conflicts by the actors: value conflicts, interest conflicts, conflicts about rights, struggles for subsistence and livelihood, cultural conflicts, conflicts because of power asymmetries

Processes - course of conflicts and their resolution

  • 7 Intensity of conflicts: low intensity, non-violent or ‘soft conflicts’; non- mitigated and mitigated conflicts; violent and militarised conflicts, civil wars and wars
  • 8 Process and course of the conflicts: duration, directions of development such as broadening or redefinition, intensification and escalation, phases, efforts and forms of intervention and mitigation
  • 9 Methods of conflict resolution: different types of policy instruments - political, administrative, legal, economic instruments and informal instruments as mediation, negotiation, arbitration, civil society action, symbolic action as moral persuasion, or ethical debates about different values and world view- sSources: own inquiry; Stepanova and Bruckmeier, 2013

Aspects of conflict analysis as described in Box 13.1 are illustrated in several chapters in this book and in other studies (e.g., Leal Filho et al., 2008; Klenke et al., 2013; SECOA project on resource use conflicts in coastal areas: www. projectsecoa.eu/, accessed 30 October 2017). The conflict types are, in one form or another, related to scarcity and unequal distribution of or access to various kinds of natural resources (Box 13.2).

Box 13.2 Typology of natural resource use conflicts

In a social-ecological perspective, natural resource use conflicts appear in the social forms and consequences of natural resource use in human society.

1 Conflicts about pollution of water, soil, air and other environmental damages (pollution rights and the cleaning or restoration of ecosystems; conflicts through environmental disasters, inundations, storms): key conflicts of the industrial society

  • 2 Conflicts within and between different social types of natural resource use (fishing, agriculture, industry, transport and trade of resources, recreational resource use, nature and species protection): inter-sectorial conflicts, related to the organisation of the economy
  • 3 Conflicts about access to and use of the natural resources that provide the subsistence basis for humans (water and land and water- or land-based living resources like fish, game, crops, or abiotic physical resources): subsistence-related conflicts
  • 4 Conflicts about competing resource claims of different user groups, especially local and non-local users (e.g., local fishermen and large-scale fishing industry; conflicts about the use of agricultural land between local peasants and farmers, external owners, international corporations, conflicting forms of land use - agriculture, industry, mining, settlement, recreation, nature protection): inter-group conflicts about user rights
  • 5 Conflicts caused through illegal use of natural resources (illegal hunting, mining, use of water, land, forests): conflicts about user rights and distribution of resources
  • 6 Ecological distribution conflicts as multi-scale conflicts where the conflicting parties are not in direct contact with each other and may not even see a conflict (e.g., in the cases of water-polluting shrimp production in Asian countries for export to European consumers, or of non-legitimated use of non-patented user rights of medical plants by pharmaceutical companies in the territories or aborigine populations and first nations): long-distance conflicts as a consequence of the globalisation of economy, of global trade and exchange of resourcesSources: own inquiry; Martinez-Alier, 2009; Klenke et al., 2013; Stepanova, 2015; SUCOZOMA-project: tmblma

c19.tmbl.gu.se/Sucozoma/default.html (accessed 29 October 2017)

A broader and controversial debate of environment- and resource-related conflicts is about conflicts between humans and animals as users of natural resources, or ecological communities that share natural resources. Such conflicts are articulated differently and hardly integrated with research on resource conflicts. The conflicts are not always discussed as conflicts, but as problems of different kinds: justice and fairness between species (Cooper and Palmer, 1995), social relations between humans and animals, inter-species relations between humans and wild and domestic animals (Myers, 2003), interaction of humans and animals in theoretical analysis (Haraway, 2008), humanity’s cooperative and conflictive relations with other species (Moore, 2015), human—animal interaction in agriculture (Tovey, 2003), and further spheres such as industry, medicine, science, defence (Tedeschi, 2016), human social lives with animals (Cudworth, 2013), relations between humans and endangered species (Hoffmann, 2004), conflicts between humans and wildlife (Klenke et al., 2013; O’Rourke, this book), humans and farm animals (Blokhuis, 2008), specific forms of working relations between humans and animals, and other forms of inter-species relations. The different themes cover many forms of relations, and also conflicts.

Conflicts originating in relations between humans and animals are often considered in terms of mistreating, suffering, cruelty, changing the life conditions of animals, etc. Conflicts in animal husbandry and about farm animals, especially in large-scale farming and mass production of animals, are mainly discussed as not species-specific animal keeping, as modifying and manipulating life conditions and animals for purposes of human consumption. These conflicts and their mitigation are addressed indirectly, as also in conflicts between humans and wild animals: whereas the origin of the conflicts can be traced back to competing and conflicting needs and behaviour forms of humans and animals, the discussion of the conflicts and their solutions are transformed into forms of advocacy (including animal rights, animal protection and governmental or legal programs), human care, responsibility and protection of animals, and articulated in normative perspectives.

The studies mentioned above imply three types of potential conflicts: between humans and wild animals, humans and domesticated animals, and between different animal species, which relates to the discipline ecology. Sometimes a classification is attempted with the terms of intra-species conflicts (as conflicts between one species, for example, humans) and inter-species conflicts (as conflicts between two or more species), for which the context of analysis needs to be broadened to include social and ecological systems (Mehta and Quellet, 1995, p. 112). That the conflicting needs, subsistence and foraging practices of humans and animals are described in different terminologies is part of the problem that emerges in interdisciplinary studies of resource use conflicts: how to systematise, connect or integrate the terminologies? This is hardly discussed; even the conflict term remains controversial in conflict research. Another conceptual problem is that theoretical classifications and concepts for the analysis of environmental conflicts come sometimes from older and other, not environment-related, conflict research, or from disciplinary specialised research (for example, classification of intra- and inter-personal conflicts, value and interest conflicts). The terminology is inhomogeneous, using several, or abstract and diffuse concepts that cannot be seen as creating conceptual integration — this implies continuous difficulties in interdisciplinary conflict research.

Methods of conflict resolution

The design of case studies or comparative studies of conflicts can evoke methodological controversies regarding data collection through qualitative or quantitative and statistical data. Yet, the methodological key problem is: how to provide knowledge for conflict resolution. Conflicts, especially violent conflicts and political conflicts, are often studied with the motivation that they need to be solved, for which effective tools of conflict resolution are required. Conflict resolution depends on science; however, the knowledge for conflict resolution is not exclusively scientific knowledge.

Different knowledge forms can be useful and need to be combined in mitigation processes, requiring knowledge integration and cooperation of actors: experience- based managerial and professional knowledge, applied scientific knowledge from monitoring and evaluation studies, nonnative knowledge from ethical discourses, juridical knowledge about legal norms, tacit personal knowledge, everyday knowledge of certain actors involved in conflicts, local ecological knowledge. Scientific and other knowledge forms cannot always be clearly differentiated, as they are often interwoven in the practices of conflict resolution.

Tools of conflict resolution are, for their acceptance by the conflicting parties, not only dependent on the experience, power and qualification of the experts trying to solve conflicts (governmental actors, legally mandated institutions for conflict resolution like courts and lawyers, police, military, coast guards, other mandated actors like mediators, negotiators, arbitrators). Increasingly the quality of tools of conflict resolution depends on their scientifically assessed effectiveness and efficiency, on their acceptance, on the costs, or the sustainability of solutions.

After all, certain conflicts cannot be solved, or only indirectly, partially and temporarily; others may not require active mitigation and can be solved by the conflicting parties themselves. To see conflicts as socially, economically or physically destructive and requiring prevention, suppression or mitigation may be justified for violent and military conflicts. Yet, the majority of natural resource conflicts are local, non-violent or soft conflicts, only seldom escalating to physical violence, military forms, civil wars or wars. With increasing scarcity of natural resources it is possible that conflicts escalate more often to violent forms, including symbolic and physical violence — examples are from many countries, in fishery, forestry and mining. But there is still a difference between single violent events and continued military violence in forms of wars and civil wars. In sociology and political science, where the conflict-power nexus is a main theme, it has long been discussed that conflicts are drivers and consequences of social and economic development and change, of political, economic and technological modernisation. With that opens a wider view of conflict resolution than in prevention, suppression or mitigation.

Based on these considerations, methods and policy instruments for conflict resolution cannot be assessed without analysing the social and ecological contexts of the conflicts. The toolbox for resolving environment-related conflicts shows only a variety of potential instruments which can be classified in four broad groups:

1 Political and administrative instruments

Political instruments: political programming and regulation, governmental decisions

Legal repression and violence: police, military, coast guard

Right-based instruments: conflict regulation by law and courts, sanctions and

punishment

Administrative instruments: conflict regulation through public planning and resource management

2 Economic instruments

Monetary and market-based regulation of conflicts: compensation payments for damages, economic incentives and disincentives, taxes, tradeable quota or pollution rights

3 Instruments of collaboration and collective action

Collaboration: mediation, negotiation, arbitration, co-management through governmental institutions and resource users

Civil society action: participation of resource users and citizen groups, selforganisation of conflicting parties

4 Instruments of symbolic action

Ethical and moral debates: moral persuasion, ethical debates about different values and world views

The methods and policy instruments for conflict resolution need to be critically assessed and revised for further application and potential combinations; this can be seen as a main purpose of conflict research. Although informal methods and collaboration are seen as suitable for solving natural resource use conflicts, in practice often several methods are attempted, or combined.

Theoretical knowledge — frameworks for conflict research

Classifications and generalisations are a step to develop more systematic conceptual frameworks for conflict analysis. For the study of natural resource use conflicts, interdisciplinary concepts and frameworks that trace the development and ramification of conflicts in interactions between social and ecological systems seem useful. Ostrom (2009) formulated a multi-tier framework with a social-ecological systems perspective for analysing practices of natural resource use and their connections with the use of social resources. Her typology includes external contexts (social, political, economic settings, ecosystems), action situations and outcomes, connected through causal links and feedbacks between four components: resource systems, resource service units, governance systems and actors.

Ostrom’s framework (similar: Manderson, 2006) does not provide theoretical explanations, but is a step of theory construction with the help of classifications. It has heuristic value for analysing resource use conflicts and identifying potential solutions. The key concepts for the formulation of integrative and interdisciplinary frameworks for conflict research include: (1) basic concepts of resource and conflict types, (2) activities and the actors, (3) processes, and (4) contexts of environmental conflicts.

1 Basic concepts

Resources and resource use problems causing conflicts

Types and degrees of conflict: violent/non-violent, political/non-political, scale

(local, regional, national, international/global, trans-boundary, multi-scale)

2 Activities and actors

Human activities causing conflicts: mining, industrial production, trade and transport, and other activities

Actors involved in conflicts: conflicting parties are often more than two, including further groups, movements, public and private organisations — with their interests and aims

3 Processes

Courses of conflicts and attempts to conflict resolution: temporal differentiation of phases (chronologies of escalation, negotiation, resolution)

4 Contexts of conflicts

Normative contexts of worldviews, values, ideologies, social norms, laws, regulations, policies

System contexts of natural resource use conflicts, their linkage to social, political, economic and ecological systems

Each specific conflict is embedded in a broader context that includes social and ecological systems and different scale levels of action and interaction. Abstract descriptions of natural resource use conflicts as ‘conservation vs. economic production’ or ‘ecology vs. economy’ do not show how the conflicts between actors are interwoven with social systems and structures, modes of production and social-ecological regimes.

The following approaches from environmental conflict research can be applied in the analysis of natural resource use conflicts (more details in Stepanova and Bruckmeier, 2013, p. 25):

1 Policy-related theories and conceptual frameworks

Focus on aspects of peace, security, violence and scarcity (Bachler, 1999; Homer-Dixon, 1999; Ohlsson, 1999; Gleditsch, 2004)

2 Interdisciplinary approaches

Studies of common pool resources and social-ecological research with focus on specific forms of nature—society interaction (Ostrom, 1999; 2009) Human-ecological and sociological approaches, especially on fisheries management (McCay, 2001; 2002; McCay and Jentoft, 1998)

3 Systemic approaches

Political economy (Schnaiberg, 1994, political economy of environment and natural resource use; Wallerstein, 2000, world system analysis) and critical environmental sociology (Rice, 2007, ecological unequal exchange in the economic world system)

Ecological economics, social and political ecology focusing on power structures and distribution of resources (e.g., Martinez-Alier, 2009, ecological distribution conflicts, Warlenius, 2017)

4 Applied research

Conflict transformation and resolution focusing on forms of negotiation, cooperation, participation of resource users in conflict resolution (Wittmer et al., 2006; Mason and Muller, 2007)

Ecological research on resilience (Folke, 2006; 2016) and conflicts related to or caused by disasters and catastrophes

These approaches and theoretical frameworks are sometimes competing, sometimes overlapping, cannot always be integrated and synthesised. Their main advantage is that they highlight specific aspects of environmental or natural resource use conflicts, or of their resolution with the key terms of political and economic power, transformation, regulation, resolution and conflict mitigation. A step of further codification can be found in interdisciplinary approaches that make use of several theoretical concepts and perspectives in system analyses of social and ecological systems and of multi-scale conflicts (e.g., the approaches of Ostrom, Martinez-Alier, Schnaiberg, Rice, see references above). For these approaches it is necessary to combine systematically empirical and theoretical knowledge, e.g., through the interpretation of conflicts with theoretically fonnulated concepts as that of ecological distribution conflicts. Further advances in theory development for natural resource use conflicts come with broader theories of human relations with nature and nature-society interaction. Such research, developing in social ecology^ (Fischer-Kowalski and Haberl, 2007; Bruckmeier, 2013; 2016), is focused on transition or transformation paths and processes, not primarily on conflicts; conflicts of natural resource use appear as a specific component of the manifold, complicated and extended processes of transformation to sustainability.

 
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