The globalization of socio-ecological systems: An agenda for scientific research

Oran R. Young, Frans Berkhout, Gilberto C. Gallopin, Marcus Janssen, Elinor Ostrom, Sander Van Der Leeuw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

615 Scopus citations


We argue that globalization is a central feature of coupled human-environment systems or, as we call them, socio-ecological systems (SESs). In this article, we focus on the effects of globalization on the resilience, vulnerability, and adaptability of these systems. We begin with a brief discussion of key terms, arguing that socio-economic resilience regularly substitutes for biophysical resilience in SESs with consequences that are often unforeseen. A discussion of several mega-trends (e.g. the rise of mega-cities, the demand for hydrocarbons, the revolution in information technologies) underpins our argument. We then proceed to identify key analytical dimensions of globalization, including rising connectedness, increased speed, spatial stretching, and declining diversity. We show how each of these phenomena can cut both ways in terms of impacts on the resilience and vulnerability of SESs. A particularly important insight flowing from this analysis centers on the reversal of the usual conditions in which large-scale things are slow and durable while small-scale things are fast and ephemeral. The fact that SESs are reflexive can lead either to initiatives aimed at avoiding or mitigating the dangers of globalization or to positive feedback processes that intensify the impacts of globalization. In the concluding section, we argue for sustained empirical research regarding these concerns and make suggestions about ways to enhance the incentives for individual researchers to work on these matters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)304-316
Number of pages13
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1 2006


  • Adaptation
  • Globalization
  • Resilience
  • Socio-ecological system
  • Vulnerability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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