PUBLICATION Beijer Discussion Paper

The social dynamics of basins of attraction

This paper conceptualizes social-ecological, or socio-environmental transformations as societal shifts from one basin of attraction to another. Such transitions occur when a society’s infor-mation processing apparatus is no longer suitable to deal with the dynamics in which the society is involved. To understand when this might be the case, we conceive of two dynamic niches, one in the mind, containing an individual’s or a society’s knowledge, values, language, customs and technology that structure the information processing, and one consisting of the dynamics of the environment. The two niches interact through resonance and co-evolve to shape both the information-processing of a society (its culture) and the interplay with the environment. Crucial in this dynamic is the process of category formation. Here, we differentiate between ‘closed’ and ‘open’ categories, which allows us to dynamically relate, but distinguish, a certainty sphere (closed categories dominate), a possibility sphere (open categories dominate) and a problem sphere (absence of categories) in relation to shifts in basins of attraction. Narratives anchor so-cieties’ values and dynamics and, therefore, are of significance in the dynamics of basins of attraction. They shape the wider culture of society, making phenomena comprehensible. In or-der to foster cultural transitions, narratives need to be modified. To do so, one has to search for narratives in which open categories dominate, and then insert new elements in them. This re-quires an analysis of the narratives to determine their degree of openness. A tentative approach to such an analysis is offered and discussed in relation to emerging new narratives coevolving with the dynamics of the realities of the Anthropocene.

Sander van der Leeuw and Carl Folke. 2020. Beijer Discussion Paper 273: The social dynamics of basins of attraction. Beijer Discussion Paper Series.