Exploring the implications of critical complexity for the study of social-ecological systems

Michelle Audouin, Rika Preiser, Shanna Nienaber, Linda Downsborough, Johann Lanz, Sydney Mavengahama

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

    42 Citations (Scopus)


    The complexity of social-ecological systems is well recognized (Berkes et al. 2003, Norberg and Cumming 2008). However, in the study of such systems, it is often the uncertainty that results from nonlinear interactions that forms the focus of discussion. Here, the normative implications of complexity for our knowledge of such systems are emphasised, by drawing largely on the work of Cilliers (1998, 2005a), who introduced the term critical complexity . This perspective on complexity is distinct in bringing the value-based choices that frame our knowledge generation strategies to the fore. It is from this view that we investigate the implications of complexity for social-ecological systems research. Based on these implications, we propose a set of five key questions to guide the incorporation of insights from critical complexity into such research. We end with a brief application of the questions proposed to the National Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Areas (NFEPA) project in South Africa, to illustrate their potential use in the context of resource management.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1 - 12
    Number of pages12
    JournalEcology and Society
    Issue number3 (Art # 12)
    Publication statusPublished - 2013

    Cite this