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Societal Regime Shifts (SoReShi) in Coupled Systems of Mountain Regions

English title Societal Regime Shifts (SoReShi) in Coupled Systems of Mountain Regions
Applicant Seidl Roman
Number 149767
Funding scheme Interdisciplinary projects
Research institution Institut für Umweltentscheidungen D-USYS ETH Zürich
Institution of higher education ETH Zurich - ETHZ
Main discipline Psychology
Start/End 01.01.2014 - 31.12.2016
Approved amount 167'193.00
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All Disciplines (4)

General history (without pre-and early history)
Agricultural and Forestry Sciences

Keywords (7)

human-environment systems; mountain areas; technology interaction; societal changes; regime shifts; landscape dynamics; modelling

Lay Summary (German)

Schwellenwerte und Regime-Shifts in sozial-ökologischen Systemen in Gebirgsregionen
Lay summary

Das Projekt will helfen das Auftreten von Schwellenwerten und die Funktionsweise von Regime-Shifts in sozial-ökologischen Systemen in Gebirgsregionen besser zu erklären. Fallstudien aus dem Schweizer Wallis und dem Österreichischen Vorarlberg sollen dazu dienen Forschungslücken im Zusammenhang mit der Analyse von Resilienz in sozial-ökologischen Systemen und der Berücksichtigung der Nachhaltigkeit unter den Bedingungen von globalem Wandel zu schliessen. Resilienzaspekte wurden bisher schwerpunktmässig auf konzeptioneller Ebene behandelt und empirische Analysen sowie die Entwicklung von Modellierungsansätzen sind noch nicht voll entwickelt. Soziale Aspekte werden unter Akteur-bezogener Perspektive analysiert (z.B. sich wandelnde soziale Bedürfnisse, Umweltbedingungen und technologische Möglichkeiten). Insbesondere historische Analysen sollen helfen von Gesellschaften in den drei Gebirgsregionen mit vermeintlich erfolgreich praktizierter Anpassung an globalen Wandel zu lernen. Wir erhoffen uns neue Einsichten über Schlüsselmechanismen bzgl. der Resilienz von Systemen und über kritische Schwellenwerte und Gründe für Regime-Shifts, die wiederum für die Abschätzung zukünftiger Entwicklungsstrategien wichtig sind.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 19.11.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants



Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
Network: Building Resilience of Mountain Socio-Ecological Systems to Global Change Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
Dr. Thomas Gayda Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
The consequences of energy infrastructure siting for people-landscape relations Talk given at a conference Perception and acceptance of „new“ renewable energy developments in mountain regions 03.10.2016 Birmensdorf, Switzerland Bürgi Matthias; Plum Christiane;
International Sustainability Transitions Conference Talk given at a conference na. / discussion panel: Session: Governance of green growth in the energy sector: Resilience as a boundary object between SES and STS thinking 25.08.2015 Brighton, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Seidl Roman;
The XIII Congress of Environmental Psychology- PSICAMB2015 Talk given at a conference Place attachment and Community resilience: theoretical and empirical exploration in a Swiss mountain region 23.06.2015 Granada, Spain Schmitz Patricia;
2015 Energie-­Seminar WISOZ Talk given at a conference Auswirkungen der Erneuerbaren auf die Landschaft: Wie wirken Konnotationen auf die Akzeptanz? 16.06.2015 Birmensdorf, Switzerland Plum Christiane;
Resilience 2014 Conference “Resilience and Development: Mobilizing for Transformation" Talk given at a conference Regime shifts of human-environment systems: historical analysis and modeling 04.05.2014 Montpellier, France Bürgi Matthias; Seidl Roman;
Resilience 2014 Conference “Resilience and Development: Mobilizing for Transformation“ Talk given at a conference Human decisions and resilience dynamics. How systemic analysis of historical cases could help addressing human-environment problems 04.04.2014 Montpellier, France Bürgi Matthias; Seidl Roman;


Overall topic. To better understand thresholds and shifting regimes in coupled human and environment systems, complex systems theory and resilience theory provide key concepts and fundamental empirical insight. Research on these thresholds, regime shifts and early indicators has increased in recent years. However, the applicability of complex systems concepts to coupled systems can be fostered and empirically consolidated. We suggest a societal perspective, because decisions by human actors (individuals and collectives) respond to current but often less to future environmental contexts; that is, reduced system resilience may result from short-term oriented decisions. Examples of successful and unsuccessful societies have been highlighted but often concentrating on land-use or ecosystem management with a focus on adaptive cycles in the ecosystems. Main research goals and questions.The main goal is to identify historical thresholds and regime shifts in three mountain societies. The focus is relationships among social, ecological, and technological variables over centuries. The aim is to understand decisions and assess awareness of intended and unintended consequences. Key questions are: How did the status-quo develop in the respective areas? Particularly, how did different communities solve trade-offs, e.g. between extensive tourism and landscape preservation, migration and social coherence (local identity)? How did they cope with massive external and internal disruptions (wars, pests, environmental hazards, famine) choosing from a set options such as migration (often to expansion, but were some places abandoned?), technology and infrastructure, local knowledge to manage local ecosystems? Of specific interest is the role of the strong identity of the respective societies, and its potential role today and in the future. Related to this role is the question of the “right” level of openness vs. closedness of societal systems, allowing for exchange and adaptability but keeping social coherence and connectedness. Method.We address these questions by analyzing the historical development of the Walser communities and the environment in three case study areas, Visp/Saas Valley (CH), Davos (CH), and Mittelberg (A). We use historical analysis to characterize societal actors and key decisions, investigate the role of technology and infrastructure, and highlight driving forces of landscape and ecosystem changes. This approach comprises text analysis, use of data bases, archival research, expert interviews and other methods. We generally apply complex systems and resilience theory to guide our research. Moreover, we investigate if the Walser did well considering the criteria put forth by Diamond (2005): environmental conditions plus overpopulation, climate change, hostile neighbors, trading, and societies’ responses to environmental problems.Project results.Potential regime shifts may be anticipated by monitoring specific variables that have proven crucial in the past. By analyzing the Walser’s successful strategies we learn for future strategies to maintain resilience against global change conditions. Moreover, a scientific result is a conceptual model that comprises the main driving forces, behavioral rules, and structural-functional relationships of the system elements.