Sustainable Development, Vulnerability and Resilience

By Stefano Moncada

Mark SiuSue, Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University presented on “Land Reform in Chin State Myanmar: Prospects for Pro-Poor Land Reform When Caught between Old and New Institutions”. As part of Myanmar’s recent reintegration into the global economy, Myanmar passed the Farmland Law in 2012– legislation key to creating a formal land market. The presentation discussed the case of the Chin State, where customary land tenure compete with private land tenure codified in the new land laws. The question at heart is the degree to which national land reform will lead to pro-poor land tenure security.

Using Ostrom’s work on managing the commons, and more recent interest-based and discursive institutionalism, this paper seeks to reveal the interests behind and fallacy of the discourse used by the state, with support from segments of capital, to promote a more orthodox view of development. It looks at the strategic responses of the community, ranging from shaping discourse, using legal instruments politically, and building advocacy coalition, with support from specific segments of the middle class.

The following questions, and observations from the presenter, were discussed.

  • Is there an agrarian reform accompanying the announced land reform, and who benefits from the land reform? The resented explain that there are a series of ancillary reforms, such as the recognition of farmers association, which are also being implemented in Myanmar. The presenter also highlighted that is very difficult to understand who is, and will be, gaining from current reforms, since democratic land access is difficult to trace and can also be guided by factors coming from outside, such as concessions to foreign investments.
  • What was the conceptualization and contextualisation of resilience within the case study. The presenter summarised that the focus of the paper

Ugo Guarnacci presented on “Joining the Dots to Foster Community Resilience: Social Networks and Collective Action in Postdisaster Indonesia”. The presentation discussed whether the new architecture for multilevel DRR governance put in place in Indonesia to foster resilience at the local level is able to involve all those players that are key to improve disaster management and enhance resilience, especially at community level. It did so by investigating the 2004 December tsunami and the March 2005 earthquake as disasters that generated a collective action problem both in Aceh and Nias, Indonesia. This presentation focused then on two main structural variables that affect the likelihood of collective actions: how people are linked and the heterogeneity of participants within the network (Ostrom, 2009). This paper will thus combine two levels of social network analysis (ego and socio-centric) in the investigation of community resilience in Aceh and Nias, Indonesia. The presentation, and the overall research discussed, was framed by the idea that community resilience is fundamentally embedded within a particular economic, social, cultural and political context. Therefore, a “cultural economy” approach is also needed to depict the relation between institutions and the structure of socially embedded resources (Chamlee-Wright, 2010).

The following questions, and observations from the presenter, were discussed.

  • A methodological question was asked in order to understand why was a snowball approach preferred to a random sample? The presenter replied by stressing the fact that in the ego-centric literature, analysis is usually performed by using a snowball methodology, given the fact that the presence of different across makes it is more effective.
  • A further question asked whether trust was considered as a factor of analysis, along with the importance of networks, in the snowball approach undertaken. The presenter highlighted that, following Ostrom’s recommendations, the analysis focused only on one factor, which was decided to be ‘networks’. However, trust was measured and discussed in the overall research, acknowledging the difficulty to use it in the comparative analysis in the two case studies.

Claudio Cecchi asked “Is Political Economy Fit to Address Vulnerability and Resilience? Is It Possible to Point Out Resilient Individuals and Groups by Means of Political Economy?” The paper argues that the type of representation that Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen has applied to production can be applied to any process that transforms inputs into outputs of any kind (including incomes transformed into well being). Therefore, it provides a powerful approach to the analysis of the situations characterized by some form of vulnerability and to the assessment of behaviour which promotes resilience. By means of this type of model, not only individual vulnerability and resilience are highlighted but also the vulnerability of groups and communities that are involved in economic and social relations that refer to production and consumption are addressed.

The challenges that the sustainability science is to communicate between disciplines and also to convince them that economics is not only based on general equilibrium theory.

The discussion:

The majority of the questions asked were the neoclassical approach is still valid, and whether, instead, studies in the filed of sustainability should focus on parallel theories and approaches. A discussion on the fallacy of the neoclassical economic theory, and the excessive reliance on mathematical empirical evidence. On the other hand it was noticed that different approaches, and empirical research, should be able to adopt the same rigor and reliable methodologies.

Stefano Moncado is lecturer and researcher in the areas of development economics, climate change & European studies at the University of Malta.