New Project: Social-Ecological Transformations

The HUMANOR Project
Ongoing climate change in the 21st century will instigate profound societal transformations. Yet, our knowledge of how
such transformations can be achieved in an equitable and sustainable manner is limited. The HUMANOR project investigates historical
transformations of mobile pastoralist social-ecological systems (SESs) for clues about which pathways may lead to such transformations.

Deer stone Mongolia

Deer stone Mongolia

Andrei Marin
Research Areas
The project compares SESs that have undergone profound climatic fluctuations in the last centuries (Sámi, Nenets, Evenki and
Mongolian pastoralists) while maintaining their livelihoods through a host of incremental and qualitative shifts. Although these systems are
increasingly being exposed to rapid climate change (e.g. the Arctic warming faster than lower latitudes), our understanding of SES response
capacities is limited to adaptations within the current systems. Pastoralism, as a livelihood constantly undergoing shifts in the nexus of feedbacks between humans, animals and the environment can provide insights into how transformations of the current systems take place.

Long term focus
The project usese a long-term focus on human-animal relations and the general socio-economic contexts to illustrate how people can deal with abrupt changes (including massive environmental shocks) and re-create these systems. It focuses on the complex drivers of social-ecological transformations of recent decades and centuries that include climate variation, land use change, governance forms and  institutional changes.

This comparative trans-disciplinary study is performed across several timescales (centennial changes since the Middle Ages- marking reindeer domestication in Fennoscandia and Siberia and the height of the pastoralist Mongolian Empire, and decadal changes since the mid-20th century) in order to illustrate the historical context of change and provide key insights into people as active agents or passive receptors of change.

For instance, we know that even at low human population densities, large livestock herds can alter ecosystem structure and function but we know comparatively little about how social, economic and political changes foster or impede deliberate, desirable changes in the ecosystems and societies underlying these SESs.

We propose that projecting future transformations will benefit from the retrospective partitioning of:

(1) socio-economic and political from climate drivers over decadal scales; and

(2) human-animal agency from climate drivers over centennial scales.

We use an interdisciplinary mix of methods to first reconstruct historical human-animal-environment relationships and environmental histories by documenting current oral environmental histories (myths, legends, life stories) and environmental reconstruction from pollen records and other soil signatures. We use indigenous residents current environmental knowledge to uncover the recent changes (climatic, vegetation, etc.) in their environments and participant observations to uncover the complex socio-economic realities of their SESs.

Our analysis draws strength from:

(1) contrasting SESs across diverse geographic scales; and

(2) accounting for heterogeneous perceptions of risk concerning the future viability of (reindeer) pastoralism in the European Research Area.

We envision our project making a significant contribution to the design of ethical and sustainable transformations of SESs in Europe and beyond.

More about the project (under construction)

Yak in Mongolia

Yak, Mongolia

Andrei Marin

Published 28. November 2014 - 14:30 - Updated 23. May 2017 - 19:26