University Of Tasmania
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A dialectical basis for consilience in marine resource management

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posted on 2023-05-27, 15:23 authored by Austen, GE
Contemporary management of renewable resources requires an interdisciplinary approach incorporating both the social and natural sciences. Within marine resource management, the requirement to incorporate biology and economics has led to the development of models in which the mathematics of both disciplines are combined. To improve the efficacy of using such models for sustaining the natural resource base and its services, managers have shifted focus from distinct biological populations towards their containing ecosystems. Recognising that ecosystems should be the focus of management has proven easier, however, than elucidating the practical manner in which they should be managed. This requires concurrence between disciplinary approaches; a consilience that we will pursue in a structured manner that avoids loose methodological eclecticism. The way in which this consilience is sought depends on the ontological understanding of the nature of the systems being managed. Systems that are complex and contingent with emergent features and downward causality, will resist reductionist-determinist analysis and are better considered dialectically. This dissertation favours a non-reductionist dialectical form of consilience and demonstrates how the application of dialectical forms to the analysis of complex ecological systems facilitates the pursuit of ecosystem policy objectives. A generalised theoretical process of policy evolution is illustrated using fisheries management as an example, and a process of dialectical abstraction supported by qualitative modelling is suggested as a way of achieving the practical operationalisation of ecological management objectives. A process of dialectical abstraction permits the decomposition of the observed real world into units or subsystems, establishing appropriate boundaries of abstraction in order to consider relations within the abstraction and between the abstraction and the rest of the world. Qualitative modelling provides a tool for unpacking these abstractions, and for understanding their dynamics with respect to their likely response to perturbations or interventions. The combination of dialectical abstraction and qualitative modelling provides the method in this dissertation to re-examine the traditional manner in which marine resources have been viewed economically. A series of analytical exercises are presented. The first examines the capital theoretic description of optimal resource use and the implications of the associated golden rule. The theoretically promised confluence of favourable biological, economic and social outcomes in neoclassical solutions for fisheries management is shown to be illusory. The second exercise considers a neoclassical market adjustment mechanism in the context of a stylised regional fishery ecosystem, in which the dialectic method, applied using a biological metaphor, reveals feedback cycles that explain unexpected policy outcomes, or contradiction. Finally, the link between apparently paradoxical results and insufficiently broad analytical focus is demonstrated through analysis of a socio-ecological meta system. More broadly, the dialectic method employed in the dissertation is shown to allow for a structured pragmatic interdisciplinary consilience between reductionist-determinist approaches and those that are evolutionary and contingent. Furthermore the pivotal role of social considerations in ecological outcomes is emphasised with the fundamental tradeoff between competing social pressures of environmentalism and materialism revealed.


Publication status

  • Unpublished

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Copyright 2015 the author Chapter 3 appears to be the equivalent of a post-print article published as: Austen, G.E.; Jennings, S.m.; Dambacher, J. M., 2016, Species commodification - a dialectical perspective on fisheries policy, Review of radical political economics, 48(1), 20-35

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  • Open

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