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Michael Sheridan

Boundary plants lie at the intersections of landscape ecology, social structure, and cultural meaning-making. They typically relate resource rights to social groups and cultural identities, and make these connections meaningful and legitimate. Landscape boundaries such as hedges and fence lines are often repositories for social identities and cultural meanings, and tools for the negotiations and struggles that comprise them. This article surveys botanical boundaries in classic ethnography, outlines social science approaches to boundary objects, and describes new theoretical work on space, place, and agency. It also introduces the concepts of monomarcation and polymarcation to delineate the contrast between technologically simple and socially complex forms of marking land. Three case studies, concerning the social lives of Dracaena in sub- Saharan Africa and Cordyline in the Caribbean, illustrate how boundary plants have a particular sort of vegetative agency to turn space into place in culture-specific ways.

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Léa Sébastien, Tom Bauler and Markku Lehtonen

This article examines the various roles that indicators, as boundary objects, can play as a science-based evidence for policy processes. It presents two case studies from the EU-funded POINT project that analyzed the use and influence of two highly different types of indicators: composite indicators of sustainable development at the EU level and energy indicators in the UK. In both cases indicators failed as direct input to policy making, yet they generated various types of conceptual and political use and influence. The composite sustainable development indicators served as “framework indicators”, helping to advocate a specific vision of sustainable development, whereas the energy indicators produced various types of indirect influence, including through the process of indicator elaboration. Our case studies demonstrate the relatively limited importance of the characteristics and quality of indicators in determining the role of indicators, as compared with the crucial importance of “user factors” (characteristics of policy actors) and “policy factors” (policy context).

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From Urban Agriculture to Urban Food

A Food System Analysis Based on Interaction between Research, Policy, and Society

Heidrun Moschitz, Jan Landert, Christian Schader and Rebekka Frick

Urban agriculture is embedded in an urban food system, and its full potential can only be understood by looking into the dynamics of the system. Involving a variety of actors from civil society, policy, and the market, we conducted a comprehensive analysis of the food system of the city of Basel, Switzerland, including policy and actor analysis, analysis of perceptions on urban agriculture, food flow analysis, and a sustainability assessment. The article presents the results of these analyses and discusses how research can contribute to the societal debate on food systems transformation. We particularly reflect on how the research project became a boundary object in a dynamic process to develop new ideas and activities, as well as to create a space for future debates in the city’s food system.

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Tomas Max Martin

Ugandan prison staff both criticize and welcome human rights as a reform agenda that brings about insecurity as well as tangible improvements. In practice, human rights discourse is malleable enough for prison officers to cobble together a take on human rights that enables them to embrace the concept. The analysis of the emic notion of “reasonable caning” illustrates this malleability as staff concurrently take stands against inhumane violence and continue to legitimize caning while aligning with human rights. Human rights are locally negotiated, and it is argued that human rights reform cannot simply be analyzed as a submissive or opposing reaction to the top-down export of powerful global discourses. The embrace of human rights that unfolds in Ugandan prisons is rather a productive and multifaceted effort by prison officers to get purchase on legal technologies and reconceptualizations of prison management practices that affect their lives.

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Karin M. Gustafsson and Rolf Lidskog

For many countries, the IUCN Red List of threatened species is a central instrument in their work to counteract loss of biodiversity. This article analyzes the development of the Red List categories and criteria, how these categories and criteria are used in the construction of global, national, and regional red lists, and how the red lists are employed in policy work. A central finding of the article is that this mix of actors implies many different forms of boundary work. This article also finds that the Red List functions as a portable representation, that is, a context-independent instrument to represent nature. A third finding is that the Red List functions as a link between experts and policy makers. Thus, the Red List is best understood as a boundary object and hybrid practice where the credibility of scientific assessment and a specific policy is mutually strengthened.

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From Organisms to World Society

Steps toward a Conceptual History of Systems Theory, 1880–1980

Julian Bauer

This article proposes to analyze the idea of organism and other closely related ideas (function, differentiation, etc.) using a combination of semantic fields analysis from conceptual history and the notion of boundary objects from the sociology of scientific knowledge. By tackling a wide range of source material, the article charts the nomadic existence of organism and opens up new vistas for an integrated history of the natural and human sciences. First, the boundaries are less clear-cut between disciplines like biology and sociology than previously believed. Second, a long and transdisciplinary tradition of talking about organismic and societal systems in highly functionalist terms comes into view. Third, the approach shows that conceptions of a world society in Niklas Luhmann's variant are not semantic innovations of the late twentieth century. Rather, their history can be traced back to organicist sociology and its forgotten pioneers, especially Albert Schäffle or Guillaume de Greef, during the last decades of the nineteenth century.