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Supplemental Readings from Cambridge students

People, Land Use, and Environment in the Yaqui Valley, Sonora, Mexico
This paper describes on-going research that integrates social and natural science approaches to the study of interactions between development and environment in the Yaqui Valley region of southern Sonora, Mexico. While the focus of this project has evolved over the past 10 years, much of our research addresses three broad questions: 1) what drives land- use and land-management decisions? 2) what are the implications of these decisions for the people and ecosystems in the region, and for the regional and global environment? and 3) what alternatives are available to the people of the region in order to harmonize development and environment? Our analysis draws from various disciplines including, agronomy, biogeochemistry, ecology, economics, geography, hydrology, international policy analysis, remote sensing science, and water resources engineering to address these questions at multiple points across the landscape.
Should System Dynamics be Described as a `Hard' or `Deterministic' Systems Approach? David Lane
This paper explores the criticism that system dynamics is a `hard' or `deterministic' systems approach. This criticism is seen to have four interpretations and each is addressed from the perspectives of social theory and systems science. Firstly, system dynamics is shown to offer not prophecies but Popperian predictions. Secondly, it is shown to involve the view that system structure only partially, not fully, determines human behaviour. Thirdly, the field's assumptions are shown not to constitute a grand content theory Ð though its structural theory and its attachment to the notion of causality in social systems are acknowledged. Finally, system dynamics is shown to be significantly different from systems engineering. The paper concludes that such confusions have arisen partially because of limited communication at the theoretical level from within the system dynamics community but also because of imperfect command of the available literature on the part of external commentators. Improved communication on theoretical issues is encouraged, though it is observed that system dynamics will continue to justify its assumptions primarily from the point of view of practical problem solving. The answer to the question in the paper's title is therefore: on balance, no.
A Portfolio Approach to Analyzing Complex Human-Environment Interactions: Institutions and Land Change (Young et al.)
The challenge confronting those seeking to understand the institutional dimensions of global environmental change and patterns of land-use and land-cover change is to find effective methods for analyzing the dynamics of socio-ecological systems. Such systems exhibit a number of characteristics that pose problems for the most commonly used statistical techniques and may require additional and innovative analytic tools. This article explores options available to researchers working in this field and recommends a strategy for achieving scientific progress. Statistical procedures developed in other fields of study are often helpful in addressing challenges arising in research into global change. Accordingly, we start with an assessment of some of the enhanced statistical techniques that are available for the study of socio- ecological systems. By themselves, however, even the most advanced statistical models cannot solve all the problems that arise in efforts to explain institutional effectiveness and patterns of land-use and land- cover change. We therefore proceed to an exploration of additional analytic techniques, including configurational comparisons and meta-analyses; case studies, counterfactuals, and narratives; and systems analysis and simulations. Our goal is to create a portfolio of complementary methods or, in other words, a tool kit for understanding complex human-environment interactions. When the results obtained through the use of two or more techniques converge, confidence in the robustness of key findings rises. Contradictory results, on the other hand, signal a need for additional analysis.
Social Science That Matters (B. Flyvbjerg)
Social science is headed down a dead end toward mere scientism, becoming a second-rate version of the hard sciences. We need to recognise and support a different kind of social science research – and so should those who demand accountability from researchers.