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Frank SondershausFrank Sondershaus

Frank Sondershaus is a Research Fellow at the Leibniz Institute for Regional Development and Structural Planning (IRS) in Erkner, Research Department Institutional Change and Regional Public Goods. He studied geography, political science and sociology at Erlangen University, Germany. His M.A. thesis explored obstacles to sustainable regional development in administratively divided areas. After graduation he worked on a project linking precautionary flood protection to regional cultural landscape development. Since 2009 he investigates the institutional capability of water scarcity management in Germany, conflicts between water users, and adaptation to climate change in small river basins.

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Abstract

Your Resilience is my Vulnerability: Institutional Voids and ‘Rules in Use’ in a Local Water Conflict

Timothy Moss | Frank Sondershaus

Within the field of social-ecological systems (SES) resilience research is today branching out beyond its original narrow focus on ecological processes to address the interplay of physical, social, environmental and economic dimensions to vulnerability and resilience, different forms of resilience – from resistance and bounce-back to adaptation – and the role of institutions in promoting more resilient SES. What this SES literature generally lacks, however, is an appreciation of how resilience and vulnerability are socially constructed. This perspective challenges the conventional notion that an entity’s vulnerability is merely a function of one or more negative factors or that resilience is a value-free coping strategy. It asserts, rather, that vulnerability is first and foremost about how threats are perceived by (diverse) actors and resilience about (often competing) constructions of how best to respond to perceived threats. This paper uses empirical analysis of a water conflict in Brandenburg to explore diverse constructions of vulnerability to water scarcity by local stakeholders and how these are influencing their respective, competing resilience strategies. In doing so, the paper focuses on the role of institutions – both formal and informal – in framing these constructions of vulnerability on the one hand and in providing avenues for responding to them with actor-specific resilience strategies on the other. More specifically, it explores how the absence or inadequacy of formal institutional arrangements to regulate water shortages creates openings for diverse vulnerability constructions and ‘rules in use’ – to the detriment of collective solutions. We show further how these contrary constructions of vulnerability and resilience are charged by socio-spatial problems of fit and scale as well as of material entities, notably water flows and infrastructures.

 

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