Understanding disturbances and responses in social-ecological systems

Michael Schoon, Michael E. Cox

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Current research in coupled social-ecological systems (SESs) often draws on theories of complex adaptive systems, resilience, and robustness. Many studies analyze the resilience, robustness, or vulnerability of these systems to disturbances and stressors, but do not connect their particular case with a general notion of what counts as a disturbance. This makes theoretical generalization of how outcomes are coproduced by disturbances and SESs difficult. These outcomes, in turn, serve as an entry point to represent SESs as dynamic systems that evolve and change over time. This study proceeds by first building a typology of disturbances to facilitate a better understanding of disturbance-response dyads in an SES. It then introduces a simple framework for analyzing SESs over time. Finally, the article applies this framework to case studies drawing on previous fieldwork.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)141-155
Number of pages15
JournalSociety and Natural Resources
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2012


  • Acequia
  • Conservation
  • Disturbance
  • Irrigation
  • Resilience
  • Robustness
  • Social-ecological systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Development
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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