CSH Lecture by J. Stephen Lansing: “Adaptive self-organized criticality in Bali’s ancient rice terraces”

Sep 27, 2016

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Please join us for the CSH Lecture Adaptive self-organized criticality in Bali’s ancient rice terraces by J. Stephen Lansing, Director of the Complexity Institute & Professor (Asian School of the Environment) at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore; External professor at the Santa Fe Insitute; Senior Research Fellow at the Stockholm Resilience Institute.


Spatial patterning often occurs in ecosystems as a result of a self-organizing process caused by feedback between organisms and the physical environment. We show that the spatial patterns observable in centuries-old Balinese rice terraces are also created by feedback between farmer’s decisions and the ecology of the paddies, which triggers a transition from local to global-scale control of water shortages and rice pests. We propose an evolutionary game based on local farmers’ decisions that predicts specific power-laws in spatial patterning that are also seen in a multispectral image analysis of Balinese rice terraces. The model shows how feedbacks between human decisions and ecosystem processes can evolve towards an optimal state in which total harvests are maximized and the system approaches Pareto optimality. It helps explain how multi-scale cooperation from the community to the watershed scale could persist for centuries, and why the disruption of this self-organizing system by the Green Revolution caused chaos in irrigation and devastating losses from pests. The model shows for the first time that adaptation in a coupled human-natural system can trigger self-organized criticality (SOC). In previous exogenously driven SOC models adaptation plays no role and no optimization occurs. In contrast, adaptive SOC is a self-organizing process where local adaptations drive the system toward local and global optima.

About J. Stephen Lansing

J. Stephen Lansing resides in Singapore. He is an emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona, a senior research fellow at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and president of the Anthropology and Environment Society of the American Anthropological Association. His recent research has to do with adaptive self-organized criticality in coupled social-ecological systems, and co-phylogenies of languages and genes in the islands of Indonesia. In 2012 he developed a UNESCO World Heritage for the subaks and water temple networks of Bali.


Sep 27, 2016


Complexity Science Hub Vienna
+43 1 59991 600
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CSH Vienna
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+43 1 59991 600
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