The Balinese Would Like a Word: Implications of Alternate Steady States in Lakes and Rice Paddies

Network News Fall 2012, Vol. 25 No. 3
ASM Reports
Presented by J. Stephen Lansing, University of Arizona

“Tipping points are common right across natural systems; do they also occur in social-ecological systems?”

J. Stephen Lansing is Anthropology and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology Professor, University of Arizona; Professor at the Santa Fe Institute; and director of Yayasan Somia Pretiwi, an Indonesian foundation promoting collaborative research on environmental problems in the tropics.Lansing chaired the anthropology department of the University of Southern California for five years and later became a professor in the School of Natural Resources and Environment and Department of Anthropology at the University of Michigan. He has been a Fulbright Fellow, a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, a lecturer at Udayana University and a researcher at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

Lansing’s talk focused on the relationships between natural systems and social-ecological systems. He described the complex adaptive system of rice paddies in Bali, Indonesia, shedding light on why the modern rice growing techniques introduced by the “Green Revolution” failed where traditional techniques used over thousands of years succeeded. The answer, it turned out, lies in the dynamic between nature, humanity, and the spiritual, and the role played in this dynamic by water temples (“subaks”) that manage the complex relationship. Lansing’s work was instrumental in getting Unesco (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) to declare the rice paddy system in Bali a world heritage cultural landscape.

Lansing noted that most social scientists assume a linear system, but by so doing they risk missing non-linear dynamics such as happens with the tightly coupled system of rice paddies in Bali.

Watch Dr. Lansing’s presentation, The Balinese Would Like a Word: Implications of Alternate Steady States in Lakes and Rice Paddies.

By McOwiti O. Thomas (LNO)