University College London
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Conceptualisation of social-ecological systems (SES)

posted on 2022-01-04, 12:23 authored by Rachna Leveque

This 'butterfly diagram' provides a conceptual model for social-ecological systems (SES).

This illustration is derived from a review of SES literature and primary empirical data on urban governance in Mumbai (Lévêque, forthcoming). SES Scholars have conceptualized SES as an overlap between ecological processes and human well-being (ecosystem services approach: MEA, 2003; Bennett, Peterson and Gordon, 2009) and as systems comprising iterative feedbacks between local ecosystems, knowledge, institutions and management practices (Berkes, Colding and Folke, 2003; Anderies, Janssen and Ostrom, 2004). In each case, economic and technological considerations such as land values and infrastructure are firmly embedded in the ‘social’ of SES. This conceptualization illustrates how interdependencies between the ecological and social are mediated through institutions and cultural practices, both of which embed equity and ecological knowledge, and in turn determine development and well-being. In this conceptualization, urbanization is a social-ecological process, which is equally guided by social patterns and ecological feedbacks, and in turn affects physical, social, political, economic, and ecological conditions locally and regionally.


Anderies, J. M., Janssen, M. A. and Ostrom, E. (2004) ‘A Framework to Analyze the Robustness of Social-ecological Systems from an Institutional Perspective’, Ecology And Society, 9(1), p. 18.

Bennett, E. M., Peterson, G. D. and Gordon, L. J. (2009) ‘Understanding relationships among multiple ecosystem services.’, Ecology letters, 12(12), pp. 1394–404. doi: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2009.01387.x.

Berkes, F., Colding, J. and Folke, C. (2003) ‘Navigating social-ecological systems: building resilience for complexity and change’, in. Cambridge University Press, p. 581. doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2004.01.010.

Lévêque, R. (forthcoming) Governing for Resilience? Navigating the uncertainties of urban densification in Mumbai. University College London.

MEA (2003) Ecosystems and Human Well-being: A Framework for Assessment, World Development. Edited by Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Island Press.


Industrial Doctorate Centre: Urban Sustainability and Resilience

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

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