If a single motif could capture realities in today’s world, uncertainty – and the complexity that underlies it – would be a likely candidate. Ecological, social, political and economic systems are undergoing rapid change. Economic globalisation, shifting patterns of political governance and new expressions of community and identity are all part of this growing complexity.
Interactions within and between processes and systems constantly generate surprising outcomes; the result is a world inherently less predictable. In this context, conventional models that have guided the study of environment and development interventions, based on notions of equilibrium and predictability, fail to hold up.
This IDS Bulletin focuses on local natural resource issues as one key area of environmental governance, asking how rural people sustain their livelihoods in an uncertain world and what institutional arrangements mediate their access to resources. The articles were commissioned for a workshop on ‘Institutions and Uncertainty’ held at IDS in November 2000.