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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Understanding adaptation and social-ecological change in Chilean coastal communities Tam, Jordan


In recent decades, attempts have been made to integrate social and ecological dimensions of change into understandings of resource sustainability, yet challenges persist. Complex dynamics in social-ecological systems fuel these challenges, rendering it difficult to anticipate and address problems arising from development or environmental change. This dissertation examines the ability of common-pool resource (CPR) theories to address and realize sustainable management. Traditionally, CPR systems have been understood as a set of design principles for managing resources, especially single-resource regimes wherein local drivers of change are known. However, most CPR settings are embedded in complex systems and affected by drivers at global to local scales. This recognition has led many scholars to champion adaptation as the way forward, but significant confusion remains over key concepts, including adaptive capacity. Focusing on Chile’s small-scale fishers and divers, I explore how user adaptations and sociocultural shifts in response to globalization can threaten the resilience of Chile’s celebrated territorial user rights regime. I develop a typology of user motivations, and explain how these intersect with user adaptations and expand our ability to create more robust management. By studying the concrete adaptation behaviours of marine users, I also demonstrate how adaptive capacity is a proactive process and behaviour-specific, contrary to assessment methods that emphasize generalizability. Similarly, by measuring social learning as the propensity of individuals to attend to social information, I show how social learning may not be uniformly positive (and may even be negative) for social-ecological outcomes, counter to expectations in contemporary resource literatures. Finally, it is generally assumed that common understanding of resource dynamics will improve the kinds of collective action that ensures the success of CPRs. Results suggest that other variables may be more important (e.g., migrant population), and the positive role of common understanding requires further testing using clear measures. Overall, the results of this dissertation suggest a need to attend to, and account for, a broader set of potentially significant social and psychological variables. Adopting a more precise and critical eye regarding human factors, as endeavoured in this study, may help the science of social-ecological sustainability progress more capably and effectively.

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