Understanding Institutional Change and Resistance to Change Towards Sustainability: An Interdisciplinary Theoretical Framework and Illustrative Application to Provincial-Municipal Aggregates Policy
Markvart, Tanya, Irene
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This study develops an interdisciplinary theoretical framework for understanding institutional change and resistance to change towards sustainability. The research rests on two leading theories of change within the social and ecological sciences: the New Institutionalism and Panarchy theory. A theoretical framework integrating insights from the two theories is applied in an analysis of the development of the Town of Caledon’s mineral resources policies. The research suggests that institutional change and inertia are interconnected and interdependent and, depending on the case and context, they may interact with each other across spatial and temporal scales. There may be overlap in the emergence of pressures for institutional inertia and change across temporal and spatial scales, and both institutional change and inertia may be present when opportunities arise for renegotiation of the “rules of the game”. Results show that the two theories share many concepts (e.g., thresholds or tipping points, fast and slow moving variables, etc.) to aid in understanding the dynamics of institutional and ecological realms. Moreover, the integrated theoretical framework can help to explain the dynamics of institutional systems in a way that overcomes the limitations in Panarchy and the New Institutionalism theories by themselves. Key concepts within Panarchy theory (e.g., regime shifts, etc.) complement the New Institutionalism’s ability to capture important contextual factors influencing institutional change and inertia, and help to overcome the current limitation in its capacity to explain the nonlinear, multi-scalar dynamics of institutional systems. In turn, key concepts within the New Institutionalism (e.g., uncertainty, etc.) complement and enrich Panarchy theory’s capacity to illustrate the social and economic dimensions of institutional dynamics. Results of the case analysis demonstrate that a range of overlapping, historic and immediate, local-to-provincial factors (e.g., socioeconomic costs, uncertainty, path dependent effects, etc.) and institutional elements (e.g., interests and values, power and resources, issues of fit, etc.) drove institutional change and inertia in the development of Caledon’s mineral resources policies. The slow moving institutional variables in Caledon’s case (core Town, industry and provincial government values and interests) were perhaps the greatest determinants of institutional change and resistance to change towards sustainability. The story of the development of Caledon’s mineral resources policies, then, is about the resilience and resistance efforts of a small Town committed to maintaining core community values under the constraints of a resilient and resistant, ecologically destructive and inequitable institutional system.