Contemporary Problem Domain

This lesson opens with the question:

 Why is engaging with communities important for building sustainable communities?

Throughout the course, we focus on the contemporary problem domain. We use the term problem domain to frame the circumstances constituting the challenge as well as sphere of analysis germane to its solution. In line with the previous lesson on how community engagement has evolved, we concentrate on the contemporary situation in which community engagement can positively impact progress towards sustainability.

Circumstances characterizing the contemporary problem domain

Circumstances characterizing the contemporary problem domain are many. We concentrate on three characteristics that are particularly salient in framing our course on building sustainable communities.

1. Nature evolving (complex, uncertainty, change)

First, the contemporary problem domain is informed by a nature evolving perspective. This view, put forth by Gunderson and Holling (2002), stresses that, as opposed to continuous developing in predictable ways, system are dynamic and often behave in unpredictable or abrupt ways. Complexity, uncertainty and change are key characteristics of this problem domain.

2. Social-ecological systems

Second, is the inter-connections of social and ecological systems. Whereas social and ecological systems have historically been treated discreetly (and still usually are), a compelling case has been put forth by Berkes and Folke (1998) that they ought to be considered together. They introduce the construct of social-ecological systems (SES) to signal the importance of this linkage. B. L. Cherkasskii first defined a social-ecological system as a system: 

“… consisting of two interacting subsystems: the biological (epidemiological ecosystem) and the social (social and economic conditions of life of the society) subsystems where the biological subsystem plays the role of the governed object and the social acts as the internal regulator of these interactions” (Cherkasskii 1988, p. 321).

3. Pluralism

Third, is plurality of perspectives, unique ways of knowing, and diversity of values. These differences often lead to contestation and manifest in conflicts.


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Building Sustainable Communities: The Impact of Engagement Copyright © 2022 by Ryan Plummer; Amanda Smits; Samantha Witkowski; Bridget McGlynn; Derek Armitage; Ella-Kari Muhl; and Jodi Johnston is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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