Social learning in the Anthropocene: novel challenges, shadow networks, and ethical practices

My most recent article is now out at the Journal of Environmental Management. At least for a time, it is free to download by clicking here. (UPDATE: Free download period has now expired but you can email me for a free copy or go to the journal if your institution has a subscription). The ideas for the paper took shape well before I’d heard of the Anthropocene at a time when I was working through the kinds of challenges that social learning in adaptive management faces. Last summer I decided to return to those old ideas and to see what might come of them. It is something of a framing piece for a broader bit I am not working on regarding sustainability in the Anthropocene inasmuch as the central argument is that geology is often wielded as a kind of empirical hammer in Anthropocene debates that require more nuance; more like needle-and-thread work than demolition and reconstruction. Here is the abstract:

“The Anthropocene presents novel challenges for environmental management. This paper considers the challenges that the Anthropocene poses for social learning techniques in adaptive management. It situates these challenges with respect to how anthropogenic forcing on the Earth system affects the conditions required for: (1) The cooperative exercises of social learning; (2) The techniques used for assessing the fit of institutions to social-ecological systems; and, (3) The strategies employed for identifying management targets that are transformed by human action. In view of these challenges, the paper then examines how the practices of shadow networks may provide paths for incorporating a broader, more robust suite of social learning practices in the Anthropocene. The paper emphasizes how novel challenges in the Anthropocene demand increased attention to ethical practices, particularly those that establish center-periphery relationships between social learning communities and shadow networks.”


  1. can’t see how existing tensions don’t just get amplified by the losses, chaos, and violence of the anthropocene, why would we be more capable of cooperation/flexibility/conversion under such mega-stresses/stressors?

    • I don’t argue we would be more capable, or even retain whatever level of capability we have. The point of the paper is the opposite; that there are groups of people who have already had to learn to live amidst unspeakable harms, and that any reasonable (i.e. ethical) approach has to prioritize their experiences and practices.

      • ah thanks, mistakenly thought you were proposing a new process/systems approach, now i see yer more in keeping with someone like James C. Scott

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