Integrative Systems and the Boundary Problem (I.S.B.P.) - EU Project n. 043199/strep/2007 - Activity Code: NEST-2005-Path-CUL

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Proposed start date: 2006-11-09 Proposed end date: 2009-11-08

  EU PROJECT N. 043199/STREP/2007

As the EU expands, our ability to integrate diverse cultures without overt ‘cultural engineering’ or suppressing cultural diversity will determine our success in finding peaceful solutions to problems of convergence. ‘Convergence’, in this sense, is the process of harmonising local administrative and political institutions with the principles of sound governance established for the Community as a whole.

Convergence invariably creates conflicts of interest on national, regional and local scales and the peaceful enlargement of the EU is probably the biggest challenge Europe has faced since the end of WWII. Investment in cultural research is clearly necessary, not least because the integrative challenges we face now will soon be dwarfed by those of economic globalisation. Any general lessons we can learn about cultural ecodynamics will obviously be of strategic significance later in the century.

Innovation involves work between epistemic communities that may bring physical, life and human scientists into contact with each other and stakeholder communities. It is hampered by clashes about whether boundary judgments - the definitions of systems and problems - are real and universal or expedient and socially constructed. ISBP will avoid extreme positions and explore ways of managing the tension between these ideas in integrative research.

At one end of the spectrum we will study issues in cultural and natural resource management to understand how negotiating new institutional and epistemic boundaries can reduce tension between antagonised stakeholder communities and promote social cohesion. At the other, we will explore the ways of characterising problems in natural science using heuristic data-mining methods to search for boundary judgments that help make problems tractable. We will study water management, asylum and immigration, environmental impact assessment and career structure in integrative research among other topics.



Scientific and technological objectives of the project and state of the art

• ISBP is a theoretically and methodologically challenging project that seeks to consolidate pre-existing European research capabilities by exploring the ‘boundary problem’ (the negotiation of tacit or explicit system definitions that underpins a conceptual model) in a range of quantitative and qualitative study-domains. We all know that different actors have different beliefs. ISBP will explore the relationship between these beliefs and the socio-political and geographical context in which that actor operates.

• It will help us to understand the processes of cultural change by investigating the concepts of receptivity and cultural embeddedness, and investigate the impact of challenging new conceptual models both on society at large and within the research and policy communities. It therefore bears on situations where conflict between stakeholder communities is possible or likely.

• It will explore a new, integrative approach to cultural dynamics that enables diverse communities to interact without first engineering cultural uniformity or driving consensus. Its emphasis is on governance rather than government. This is clearly relevant to the EU in the context of enlargement and globalisation.

• It will develop a new theoretical framework for understanding the relationship between culture, behaviour and environment that can be applied to hard (quantitative) and soft (qualitative) science contexts with equal facility. We take it as axiomatic that there are limits beyond which hard science provides no leverage, but where softer, qualitative methods can facilitate convergence, enhance compliance and sustain social cohesion.

• It will explore these concepts through a series of quantitative and qualitative case studies to determine whether the boundary problem provides a coherent intellectual framework for describing work across the boundary between social and natural systems; human and environmental science. Although our case studies are diverse, each of them bears on issues of sustainable development at the interface of culture and nature. Our research, therefore, speaks to such major policy themes as Developing the ERA, Innovation in practice and theory, the Lisbon Strategy and EESD. However, we have put them together in a way that highlights cross-cutting problems that have not, hitherto, received the attention they merit. ISBP will explore the complex, co-dynamic relationship between culture and nature.





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