Using Transdisciplinary Action Research Toward Sustainable Management of Vineyard Management and Tourism in the Negev Highlands

Using Transdisciplinary Action Research Toward Sustainable Management of Vineyard Management and Tourism in the Negev Highlands

Noa Avriel-Avni (Dead Sea and Arava Science Center, Israel), Jen M. Holzer (Technion, Israel), Moshe Shachak (Ben Gurion University, Israel), Daniel E. Orenstein (Technion, Israel) and Elli E. Groner (Dead Sea and Arava Science Center, Israel)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2642-1.ch012


Communities often lack a framework to guide research and action by which to mitigate complex socio-ecological challenges in the face of conflicting interests and poorly understood ecological and socio-political mechanisms. In an effort to provide such a framework, this article offers an approach for the systematic analysis of societal interactions with the landscape as well as for the structure and function of the ecosystem. Using an approach informed both by transdisciplinary research (TdR) and participatory action research (PAR), modeling is employed to identify trajectories of human influence on the ecosystem, which is illustrated using a case from the Negev Highlands of Israel. The approach identifies several cascades of effects, allowing diverse stakeholders to better understand the mechanisms by which human activities change the capacity of the ecosystem to support human well-being over time, as well as building capacity for stakeholder cooperation for sustainable management.
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Coupled Socio-Ecological Systems as a Framework for Sustainable Management

Modeling the human environment as a coupled social-ecological system has become popular as a conceptual tool in recent years (Turner, Georgiou & Fisher, 2008). This view conceptualizes the social system as interlinked with the ecological system, which are both dynamic, due to internal processes and external drivers (Pickett, Kolasa & Jones, 1994; Collins et al., 2011; Landsberg et al., 2011). The benefits the social system derives from the ecological system have come to be known as “ecosystem services”. Ongoing pressures and events caused by human behavior change the structure and functioning of the ecological system, and affect the composition and abundance of the ecosystem services it provides (Azapagic, 2010).

Sustainability, according to this theory of socio-ecological systems, is defined as the resilience of the socio-ecological system; namely, its ability to absorb shocks while maintaining its essential functions (Plummer and Armitage, 2007). We use sustainability to refer to the preservation of the system’s ability to adapt to change (although not necessarily the preservation of the status quo) (Griggs et al., 2013).

While the meaning of sustainability was always intended to encompass the range of interconnected environmental and social factors, this has long been a challenge, both theoretically and in the context of policy and management (Orenstein and Shach-Pinsly, 2015). One reason for this difficulty has been attributed to the separateness of natural scientists, social scientists, and others and their related disciplines (Liu et al., 2007). Even though it is now accepted that human societies are inextricably linked with the biophysical environment, it is difficult for some to leave behind the dichotomy between “man and nature”, long popular as a dominant belief in Western civilization (Pickett, Kolasa & Jones, 1994; Berkes and Folke, 2000; Keiny, 2004). The idea of the coupled socio-ecological system arose concurrently in multiple disciplines as an effort to bridge this disconnect (Singh et al., 2012). This is a conceptual framework in which, ideally, natural scientists and social scientists collaborate in an effort to understand how human behaviors can affect ecosystems and alter their structure and function in a way that damages or enhances its ability to provide ecosystem services; that is, to continue to support the social system (Folke 2006; Azapagic, 2010).

Despite the aspiration to bridge and create a meaningful knowledge exchange among researchers from different disciplines, many socio-ecological models focus primarily on ecosystem processes and relate to social processes as drivers of ecological change without analyzing the underlying causes of individual, social, and political behavior. For example, when a complex socio-ecological issue was modeled using the type of ecological model known as DPSIR (drivers, pressures, states, impacts, and responses), the social drivers that were identified as affecting the greater socio-ecological system (environmental ethics, meat consumption, animal welfare regulations, meat export demand, energy use, and transport, in this study) were identified in a highly simplified fashion (Niemeijer & de Groot, 2008). This kind of analysis, while emphasizing the importance of understanding the entire socio-ecological system, does not provide much insight into the complexity of the social system or the feedback between the two systems. In addition to the links between a given social system and ecosystem, socio-ecological research should explore the underlying motivations, beliefs, and behaviors that drive social phenomena (such as environmental ethics, meat consumption, etc.).

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