Implications of the System’s Observer in Environmental and Ecological Knowledge Systems for Sustainable Development

Friday, 20 July 2018: 16:15
Oral Presentation
Patricia Eugenia ALMAGUER-KALIXTO, Interdisciplinary Institute on Human Ecology and Sustainability, Mexico
This paper reviews the concept of ‘system observer´ in the literature of ecological and environmental knowledge systems. Environmental knowledge has been generally related to traditional knowledge (hereafter TEK) and it addresses bodies of beliefs, traditions, practices, institutions, and worldviews developed and sustained by indigenous, peasant, and local communities in interaction with their biophysical environment (Toledo 2002, Berkes 2004, Erik Gómez-Baggethun et al 2013). Environmental knowledge has a broader conceptualization that includes (i) knowledge about collective decisions regarding the environment (Hays 2000, Almaguer 2014), (ii) conceptualizations that engage information and knowledge about environmental issues, and (iii) the decisions taken upon that knowledge with their political and economic implications (Clapperton and Piper, 2016).

By emphasizing a sociocybernetics perspective, the paper analyses both conceptual models using systems theory and second order cybernetics (Geyer and Van der Zouwen 2006). It compares the use that such models do to system reflexivity and second-order observation (Foerster 1973). Other concepts such as self-organization, emergence, positive and negative feedback (Geyer 1995) are also considered to analyse models of knowledge systems of nature, outlining conceptual similarities and differentiations with some case examples.

The second part focuses on the debate of the ‘system observer/constructer’. Birrer (1999) identifies environmental issues as one of the fields where first order systemic perspective has strong development (i.e. modeling of environmental systems) he also notices that we hold ambiguity when we refer to the role of the system’s observer in these fields. The paper discusses the implications of explicitly acknowledging -or not- the position of the observer within the system´s construction, particularly when attempting to address sustainable development challenges as those framed by the Sustainable Development Goals.