Wednesday 7
Tips or Traps? Advancing understanding to steer clear of impoverishment traps and tipping points
Niki Frantzeskaki
› 10:25 - 11:20 (55min)
› Antigone 3
The transitions perspective on the institutional mechanisms behind traps in social-ecological systems
Niki Frantzeskaki  1@  , Wil Thissen@
1 : Dutch Research Institute For Transitions  (DRIFT)  -  Website

Note: This abstract is to be considered for the Proposed Session"Tips or Traps? Advancing understanding to steer clear of improverishment traps and tipping points"

Transitions to sustainability are long-term processes of fundamental change that occur as a continuous co-evolution between different subsystems as well as between structures (institutions and infrastructures), cultures (mindsets, perceptions) and practices. For transitions to take off, institutions as structural elements are critical to propel change by legitimizing (technological, social and/or governance) innovations. In this paper we adopt the transitions perspective to explain the institutional mechanisms that underlie social-ecological transformations and traps. More specifically, we built on neo-institutionalism (North, Eggertson) to relate institutional mechanisms to the rigidity and poverty traps (Carpenter and Brock, 2008). The institutional mechanisms that establish and reinforce rigidity traps include institutional the restraining mechanism, the over-reliance mechanism, the institutional self-enforcement loop and the technological lock-in loop. The institutional mechanisms that establish and conserve poverty traps include deinstitutionalization mechanisms and institutional erosion mechanisms. We further ground the set of institutional mechanisms in case studies of urban water governance transitions: the Rhine Delta case in the Netherlands, the Jakarta case in Indonesia and the Tamale case in Ghana. Each case study builds on in-depth and rich field data (in-person interviews with policy stakeholders, NGOs, community organisations and corporate enterpreneurs). From the comparative analysis of the three case studies adopting the transitions' perspective, we conclude that there is a third type of institutional traps that is so far neglected in social-ecological transitions scholarship: the scale asymmetry trap that refers to situations in which emerging innovations with the potential to deal with a need or problem are effective in a lower scale than the scale of the problem. As such there is a mismatch of impact/effectiveness between solution and problem that enforces an asymmetry trap and stagnates bottom-up transformations. We further analyse the lessons and implications of rigidity, poverty and asymmetry traps as well as ways to steer clear from these traps and propel social-ecological transitions to resilience.


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