File(s) under embargo
The pragmatic holism of social–ecological systems theory: Explaining adaptive capacity in a changing climate
journal contributionposted on 2023-09-25, 23:18 authored by S Adams
Now ubiquitous in research on adaptation to the impacts of anthropogenic climate change is the aim of cultivating adaptive capacity. With its promise to expand the scope of transformative human response within the adaptive dynamics of the social–ecological system, this approach is built upon the integration of the social and ecological, reflecting the ‘pragmatic holism’ at the heart of the concept of the ecological system. This vision is undercut, however, by an ambivalence about the agency of humans to effect adaptive change. I argue that this threatens to recoup the environmental determinism that characterised mid-20th-century theories of adaptation in geography and cognate disciplines – albeit in a new form defined by an understanding of agency as distributed and emergent that is associated with developments in cybernetics and complexity science. This article charts how the currently dominant discourse centred on adaptive capacity has come about and explores what it might mean for the politics of climate change adaptation, as the scope of human action is circumscribed by the adaptive dynamics of the social–ecological system.