msb ~035 Ecosystems and Boundary Objects

Ecosystems and Boundary Objects

Boundary Objects

I wasn’t able to attend GroundWork Gallery’s Restore? Conserve? Rewild? but enjoyed ClimateCultures’ review. This exploration of different responses to environmental predicaments included contentious Ecosystem Services approaches. Although it’s common ground that ‘nature’ provides benefits to ‘society’, which government, business and populations undervalue and undermine, controversy arises when we’re asked to translate these into a common value: cash.

To what extent can concepts like ‘ecosystem services’ help us discuss our predicaments, given radically different worldviews on how to manage, steward or live with ‘nature’? We don’t have to agree answers to be able to talk problems. In social science, things that help us collaborate without requiring consensus – Boundary Objects – can be concepts, models or artefacts, or all three at once (think maps: we can explore the same terrain while reading very different features: views, exercise, pubs…). A useful boundary object has ‘interpretive flexibility’ (different communities find different meanings in it), it helps the work being undertaken, and it’s able to ‘tack’ between its useful vagueness in open discussions and more specific, tailored applications within communities. Dangers arise when one interpretation becomes fixed and others are frozen out. The object becomes a different type of boundary, where communication across it ceases.

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