Towards a theory of conflict and cooperation in network governance: Positive, negative and “induced” ties in social ecological networks.

Garry Robins, Örjan Bodin, Maria Mancilla Garcia


Environmental problems typically entail conflicts of interest. Sometimes, but not always, different actors and opposing coalitions cooperate in solving these problems. So, processes of conflict and cooperation often present in tandem, although much past research tends to study these processes separately. In understanding the governance of social ecological systems, we may be missing the point if we ignore the possibility of negative ties. In unconstrained social systems, a simple strategy to evade negative tie difficulties is to avoid the alter. But social ecological networks are not unconstrained: the ecosystem provides a strong context against avoidance and so facilitates the emergence of negative ties and open conflict. The presence of environmental resources engenders competition by actors who wish to harvest the resource, and withdrawal from the competition is not the preferred or even possible option. Based on recently published work (Bodin, Garcia and Robins, 2020), we present three basic elements towards the development of a more comprehensive theory on conflict and cooperation in social ecological systems. First, we see networks from a process-oriented, rather than exclusively structural, perspective, thereby permitting causal insights. Secondly, we represent a social-ecological system as a bi-level system comprising both social and ecological nodes and three levels of interdependencies; and within this system there are both positive and negative ties. So, the system is both multilevel and multiplex. Thirdly, we propose the new concept of an “induced” tie where the structure of the ecological and cross-level ties “induces” the preconditions for conflict in the social system. Understanding the structure of induced ties enables identification of regions of the network where cooperation may need to be strengthened. With these elements in place, we call for the development of more comprehensive and empirically informed theories on why in social ecological systems stakeholders sometimes engage in conflict, sometimes in cooperation, and sometimes in both, and what social and environmental consequences these different actions bring about.

← Schedule