Dissertation: “Dialogue entre des chiffres et des lettres : imaginer et construire des futurs possibles en écologie”, defended 2009, Montpellier University, co-tutored with John Thompson
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Words and numbers: imagining and building possible futures in ecology
Studying and predicting possible futures for ecological systems has become an objective of ecological research, particularly because of a growing public demand and awareness of the consequences of global changes. However, methods and concepts developed by the academic field of futures studies are not fully used in ecology. We propose here that they could be useful to enlarge methodological resources and ecological knowledge. Building model predictions has been the main method used by ecologists to study futures, whereas more qualitative methods such as narratives are common in futures studies. We therefore adopted a reflexive viewpoint and conducted detailed interviews with ecologists to analyse the reasons for their limited application to ecological problems. The use of a reductionist approach to deal with complex systems and the lack of acknowledgement of futures’ specificities appear as the major reasons for the continued preference for predictive approaches. We built conjectures based mainly on narratives to study possible futures for a Mediterranean landscape and showed that one can imagine several ecological futures. Incomplete knowledge, contingent events and the coexistence of several theories, play an important role in understanding possible future dynamics. By using numerical simulations of possible future changes in this Mediterranean landscape, we also illustrated the complementarities between prediction and narration. This ‘hypothetico-constructive’ study opens interesting perspectives for (i) ecological research, here we underline the importance of interactions and contingency to understand possible futures, (ii) futures studies, by going further in our understanding of the concepts of ‘conjectural problematic’, ‘diachronisation’ and ‘narration’, and for (iii) the link between these two disciplines. This interface could be greatly stimulated by developing the capacity of ecology to adopt a futures studies approach and by defining criteria to assess the quality of studies about possible futures in ecology.
Keywords: ecological dynamics, future studies, Mediterranean landscape, narratives, reflexive posture, scenarios.
Audrey Coreau is now a researcher at AgroParisTech and also teaches in the PPSE advanced master program.
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