RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2016

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227 Hydrosocial or socio-hydro? Cross-disciplinary discussions on Deltas as nexus of social, technical and physical systems (1): concepts and application
Convenor(s) Anna Wesselink (UNESCO-IHE, The Netherlands)
Michelle Kooy (UNESCO-IHE, The Netherlands)
Jeroen Warner (Wageningen University, Netherlands)
Chair(s) Jeroen Warner (Wageningen University, Netherlands)
Timetable Thursday 01 September 2016, Session 3 (14:40 - 16:20)
Session abstract The last decade has seen the exploration across disciplines, but especially by physical and human geographers, of water as simultaneously social and natural. In the age of the Anthropocene, natural scientists refer to socio-hydrology, while social scientists refer to the hydrosocial. They both agree – but with important differences – on needing to understand the interplay between human and natural systems. This session aims to understand the differences, similarities, and implications of the hydro-social-technical paradigms in use. Waterscapes where this issue is particularly pertinent are deltas. Deltas are special places, where the relationships between humans and nature is often strongly, and increasingly, mediated by technology. Traditions of ‘living with water’, with modest interventions, are in many places superseded by modernity’s aim to control: dikes prevent flooding, groins and embankments fix the river channels’ position, polders enable micro-water level management for the benefit of agriculture. The conceptualisation of delta systems should therefore give due recognition to the constituting role of technology. This session aims to explore this relationship of technology with social and natural processes within the context of delta, theoretically and/or empirically. We want to compare the reasons for, and implications of, the choice of paradigm for research and policy on deltas. Our purpose is not to judge competing claims but to start a meaningful conversation. We want to assess possibilities and constraints in the light of pragmatic questions: what can we learn when we employ these different approaches, what different rationales for action do they suggest, what scope exists for collaboration? We also ask to what extent paradigms are incommensurable, and under what circumstances they may not be. Our tentative proposal is that ‘narrative’ is the common ground that can be a shared endeavour amongst disparate paradigms. We therefore also look for speculative papers that propose how such engagement around narratives may be implemented in research.
Linked Sessions Hydrosocial or socio-hydro? Cross-disciplinary discussions on Deltas as nexus of social, technical and physical systems (2): focus on deltas
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2016@rgs.org
Understanding the behaviour of floodplains and deltas as fully coupled human-water systems
Giuliano Di Baldassarre (Uppsala University, Sweden)
This talk introduces a socio-hydrological approach to explain human-flood interactions. Generalised differential equations are used to capture emerging dynamics in a changing climate. This approach is then applied to explore the behaviour of floodplains and deltas as fully coupled human-water systems. Building on examples from different parts of the world, Two main system archetypes are considered. Green systems, whereby humans cope with flooding by resettling out of flood-prone areas ("living with floods" approach); and technical systems, whereby humans deal with flooding also by building levees ("fighting floods" approach). This application shows the potential of the proposed approach in capturing long-term dynamics, such as adaptation and levee effect, emerging from the feedbacks between physical and social processes. It is then discussed how these outcomes can contribute to a better understanding of flood risk changes.
Socio-hydrology and hydrosocial analysis: towards dialogues across disciplines". systems
Anna Wesselink (UNESCO-IHE, The Netherlands)
Michelle Kooy (UNESCO-IHE, The Netherlands)
Jeroen Warner (Wageningen University, Netherlands)
In this paper we review the ways in which water has recently been conceptualized by both natural and social scientists as either hydro-social or socio-hydrological. We do this in order to discuss whether and how they can be compatible, in order to enable dialogue across disciplines that seek to address the ecological and social challenges related to the complex human/water interactions. Through our review we document the emergence of these specific terminologies, identify how these terms – and the conceptualizations they represent – relate to each other, and suggest what opportunities there are for building further interdisciplinary approaches to understanding water and society. Specifically, we review the recent rise in socio-hydrology amongst natural scientists/hydrologists to put this in discussion with a much longer tradition in social sciences of seeing water as both natural and social. We identify what the paradigms are in both conceptualizations in order to assess what their respective focus is, and what they omit. Our purpose is not to judge competing claims. Rather we want to assess the knowledge claims made in both paradigms: what can we learn when we employ these different approaches, what different rationales for action do they suggest, and what scope exists for collaboration. We conclude that there is scope in combining both approaches without a need to antagonistically question their respective fundamental assumptions, and playing to the strengths of each: the rich case study narratives produced by hydrosocial research can be the basis for the conceptual and quantitative modelling of socio-hydrology.
Conceptualising human-nature relationships: Learning from experiences of 'Natural Flood Management' in Scotland
Kerry Waylen (James Hutton Institute, UK)
Kirsty Holstead (James Hutton Institute, UK)
Kathryn Colley (The James Hutton Institute, UK)
This paper describes the concept of 'natural flood management' (NFM) in Scotland, and explores how this constitutes a challenge to prevalent paradigms used to conceptualise human-nature environment relationships. NFM is a set of measures that aim to slow the flow of water through catchments, using techniques such as re-meandering, introducing woody debris into streams and re-vegetating buffer strips near water courses. Efforts to plan and implement NFM may thus exemplify the challenges of moving away from top-down technocratic approaches to water governance, and the associated traditions and techniques used to control water courses and move water off land. NFM entails a new relationship between humans and nature, one where natural processes are something to be restored and even celebrated, and where technology cannot completely control risks to humans. New forms of knowledge, ways of working and collaborations are required. Based on recent experiences with NFM in Scotland, we argue that although the concept now receives widespread scientific and policy support, there is not yet complete recognition of how NFM challenges modernist conceptualisations of human-nature relationships, nor yet abandonment of this mindset. Widespread attachment to modernity is manifest through the oft-cited problems of engaging with land-managers, but also in public attitudes and a myriad of overt and less tangible institutional barriers and challenges cited by those trying to consider, plan or implement NFM. The primary framing for this research built on concepts and experiences of environmental governance in other domains, and by the institutional barriers noted for other attempts to introduce new concepts in water management. This is compatible with the hydrosocial perspective, e.g. in our focus on issues such as power relations. Our framing proved a fruitful basis for shaping the research and analysing the data. However, discomfort with uncertainty and lack of control was a strong theme in our data: this was hardly surprising given the aims of flood risk management, but perhaps not a theme that is sufficiently well integrated into the bodies of work that we originally built on. We therefore welcome the opportunity to reflect on the merits of other paradigms to understand hydro-social systems and attempts to manage them.
Forecasting in the nexus: looping effects and the impacts of 'impact-based' warnings
Maria Paula Escobar Tello (King’s College London / Defra, UK)
David Demeritt (King’s College London, UK)
Since 2011, the warnings issued by the UK Met Office and by the Flood Forecasting Centre have been 'impact-based. That is, the severity of warning issued by the forecasting service takes account not just of the probability of an event of a given magnitude, like rain >30mm/hour or discharges >3000m3s-1, but also the expected impacts of such an eventuality on any people, property, and critical infrastructure exposed to it. This creates a number of practical challenges for forecasters. First their expertise is in meteorology or hydrology rather than in human geography or economics ; ditto their models and sources of data. Forecasting impacts on society requires new forms of expertise, new datasets, and new models, as well as new forms of collaboration with human geographers and other social sciences, than those traditionally used for purely physical process modelling. But second, and much more profoundly, impact-based forecasts are part of the very systems whose behaviours they are forecasting in ways that strictly physical process model forecasts are not. Whereas Storm Desmond in December 2015 was profoundly indifferent to the predictions that >300mm of rain might fall over higher elevations in Cumbria , the same was not true about the 'impact-based' red alert that was issued in anticipation of severe impacts on people and property. Just how severe those impacts turned out to be depended, in part, on how people responded to the forecasts that were issued about the severity of the anticipated impacts. These 'looping effects', as Hacking terms this tendency for people and other 'interactive kinds' to respond hermeneutically to the way they are predicted by others to be, raise tricky questions about how we might validate impact-based forecasts and what it would mean if a red alert about severe impacts is not actually followed by much death and destruction. Similar questions are raised by climate change projections, but the shorter time-scales and closer coupling of impact-based forecasts to the hydro-social relations they are modelling and thereby actively remaking makes them much more urgent. As well as discussing the practical challenges involved in this important new area of impact-based forecasting, the paper will also reflect on their implications for wider debates in geography and science studies about simulation modelling as one important practice through hydro-social worlds are co-produced.
Hydrosocial or socio-hydro? Cross-disciplinary discussions
Naho Mirumachi (King’s College London, UK)
The last decade has seen the exploration across disciplines, but especially by physical and human geographers, of water as simultaneously social and natural. In the age of the Anthropocene, natural scientists refer to socio-hydrology, while social scientists refer to the hydrosocial. They both agree – but with important differences – on needing to understand the interplay between human and natural systems. Part I of this session aims to understand the differences, similarities, and implications of the hydro-social-technical paradigms in use.