PECS #5: Historical Analysis of Social-Ecological Systems with Hita Unnikrishnan

One of the biggest gaps in studies of environmental governance is that they often produce what may best be thought of as a snapshot of patterns observed at a given point in time. However, environmental governance regimes are usually path dependent and influenced by events that may have occurred in preceding regimes. Studying historical contexts of environmental governance is thus very important in order to understand the complexities inherent within issues such as the influence of inter and intra community heterogeneities on equitable distribution of resources, varied motivations for communities to engage in coproducing their resources, or the ongoing influence of historical inequities on contemporary landscapes.

However, working with historical data involves navigating through a complex set of challenges that include but are not limited to a) working with data that was not originally created to address the question at hand (for example with maps that originally served as battle plans), b) data that represents specific points of view (for example governmental records that are often silent on everyday experiences or challenges faced by people within a regime), and c) highly subjective data (such as those derived from oral histories). In addition, historical data may be very sparse in certain contexts making its use highly challenging in some areas.  In this webinar I will discuss the use of historical data in studying natural resource governance, the diversity of historical data, limitations and challenges in navigating through temporal data and the ways in which we may combine multiple data sources (such as historical maps, archival records, and oral histories) in order to study historical regimes of environmental governance. I will also illustrate using specific cases from our own work on urban Bangalore, the use of multiple forms of historical data to trace a) social-ecological system change and b) changes in polycentric regime, the role of power in shaping discourses of environmental governance over time, and their influence on the present day.

Hita Unnikrishnan is a Newton International Fellow (funded by the British Academy) at the Urban Institute, The University of Sheffield.  She is also a visiting faculty at Azim Premji University, Bangalore. Her research focuses on examining the politically situated nature of blue and green social-ecological systems transformations in urban areas, highlighting the influence of development and governance trajectories on geophysical, political, and cultural transformations of social-ecological systems, particularly as they relate to the multiple, contested ways in which urban social-ecological resources are perceived and appropriated in cities of the global south. To do this, she deploys a highly diverse and interdisciplinary repertoire of methods that span the range of natural and social sciences including GIS, field ecological methods, analysis of archival documents, oral histories, and textual analysis for context and discourse. Hita has also previously been a recipient of the Prof. Elinor Ostrom Fellowship for Practice and Policy in the Commons for the year 2013.