The social science department investigates the human dimension of tropical coastal and marine social-ecological systems.
Our work focusses on the link between the social and the ecological sides of the system, as there is a strong influence of the ecological side on the culture, economy, social relationships, and governance of this particular system, while the social subsystem in term influences the ecological subsystem. Institutions as rules mediate – nevertheless being a contract only between people – what is required, prohibited and allowed in a society towards the use of the ecological part of the system and therefore determine if the anthropogenic use is a sustainable or an unsustainable one.
People rely on and influence substantially the resources of those systems. Therefore, understanding their behaviour and their governance mechanisms is crucial if a sustainable use in an ecological, social and economic sense should be achieved. Considering the particular social-ecological context is of fundamental importance for a proper understanding and the resulting policy conclusions. People at the local level are affected by environmental (economic, social and ecological) change. They react to those changes in different ways. Some responses are individual, others are collective. We try to understand these reactions and their influence on sustainable resource use. We also analyse different governance mechanisms and their influence on sustainable use.
Understanding the role of people in the specific social-ecological system requires multiple social sciences disciplines, heterogeneous theories holding different assumptions and a variety of methods, ranging from qualitative to quantitative, from experimental to descriptive. This is an interdisciplinary challenge which we meet with highly complementary and synergistic working groups.
People hugely influence most tropical marine social-ecological systems while at the same time being the only species which can actively manage those systems. The social sciences department therefore contributes to the ZMT’s mission by analysing the central role of people in these systems.