2017-06-07Zeitschriftenartikel DOI: 10.3390/su9060974
On the System. Boundary Choices, Implications, and Solutions in Telecoupling Land Use Change Research
Land-based production provides societies with indispensable goods such as food, feed, fibre, and energy. Yet, with economic globalisation and global population growth, the environmental and social trade-offs of their production are ever more complex. This is particularly so since land use changes are increasingly embedded in networks of long-distance flows of, e.g., material, energy, and information. The resulting scientific and governance challenge is captured in the emerging telecoupling framework addressing socioeconomic and environmental interactions and feedbacks between distal human-environment systems. Understanding telecouplings, however, entails a number of fundamental analytical problems. When dealing with global connectivity, a central question is how and where to draw system boundaries between coupled systems. In this article, we explore the analytical implications of setting system boundaries in the study of a recent telecoupled land use change: the expansion of Chinese banana plantation investments in Luang Namtha Province, Laos. Based on empirical material from fieldwork in Laos in 2014 and 2015, and drawing on key concepts from the ‘systems thinking’ literature, we illustrate how treating the system and its boundaries as epistemological constructs enable us to capture the differentiated involvement of actors, as well as the socio-economic and environmental effects of this land use change. In discussing our results, the need for more explicit attention to the trade-offs and implications of scale and boundary choices when defining systems is emphasised.
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