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A dialectical basis for consilience in marine resource management


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Austen, GE 2015 , 'A dialectical basis for consilience in marine resource management', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Contemporary management of renewable resources requires an interdisciplinary approach
incorporating both the social and natural sciences. Within marine resource management, the
requirement to incorporate biology and economics has led to the development of models in which
the mathematics of both disciplines are combined. To improve the efficacy of using such models for
sustaining the natural resource base and its services, managers have shifted focus from distinct
biological populations towards their containing ecosystems. Recognising that ecosystems should be
the focus of management has proven easier, however, than elucidating the practical manner in
which they should be managed. This requires concurrence between disciplinary approaches; a
consilience that we will pursue in a structured manner that avoids loose methodological eclecticism.
The way in which this consilience is sought depends on the ontological understanding of the nature
of the systems being managed. Systems that are complex and contingent with emergent features and
downward causality, will resist reductionist-determinist analysis and are better considered
dialectically. This dissertation favours a non-reductionist dialectical form of consilience and
demonstrates how the application of dialectical forms to the analysis of complex ecological systems
facilitates the pursuit of ecosystem policy objectives. A generalised theoretical process of policy
evolution is illustrated using fisheries management as an example, and a process of dialectical
abstraction supported by qualitative modelling is suggested as a way of achieving the practical
operationalisation of ecological management objectives. A process of dialectical abstraction permits
the decomposition of the observed real world into units or subsystems, establishing appropriate
boundaries of abstraction in order to consider relations within the abstraction and between the
abstraction and the rest of the world. Qualitative modelling provides a tool for unpacking these
abstractions, and for understanding their dynamics with respect to their likely response to
perturbations or interventions.
The combination of dialectical abstraction and qualitative modelling provides the method in this
dissertation to re-examine the traditional manner in which marine resources have been viewed
economically. A series of analytical exercises are presented. The first examines the capital theoretic
description of optimal resource use and the implications of the associated golden rule. The
theoretically promised confluence of favourable biological, economic and social outcomes in
neoclassical solutions for fisheries management is shown to be illusory. The second exercise
considers a neoclassical market adjustment mechanism in the context of a stylised regional fishery
ecosystem, in which the dialectic method, applied using a biological metaphor, reveals feedback
cycles that explain unexpected policy outcomes, or contradiction. Finally, the link between
apparently paradoxical results and insufficiently broad analytical focus is demonstrated through
analysis of a socio-ecological meta system.
More broadly, the dialectic method employed in the dissertation is shown to allow for a structured
pragmatic interdisciplinary consilience between reductionist-determinist approaches and those that
are evolutionary and contingent. Furthermore the pivotal role of social considerations in ecological
outcomes is emphasised with the fundamental tradeoff between competing social pressures of
environmentalism and materialism revealed.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Austen, GE
Keywords: Dialectic, Heterodox, Qualitative Modelling, Fisheries
Copyright Holders: The Author
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2015 the author

Additional Information:

Chapter 3 appears to be the equivalent of a post-print article published as: Austen, G.E.; Jennings, S.m.; Dambacher, J. M., 2016, Species commodification - a dialectical perspective on fisheries policy, Review of radical political economics, 48(1), 20-35

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