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Sustainable Management – a Question of Time


Jens Christian Svabo Justinussen

Cambridge University og Fiskirannsóknarstovan

Aðrir luttakarar:
Dr Patrick Baert


Stuðul úr Granskingargrunninum:
166.155 kr.

In this study I propose to analyze fishery management conflicts from a time perspective.

Each of the actors involved (the fisherman, the politician and the scientist) have their own time horizon. The fishermen have to comply with monthly payments on their boats and other expenses. They must think and behave from the standpoint of a short time horizon -- usually shorter than a month. The scientists think in terms of the growth cycle of a given species. They will therefore tend to think in a much longer time-horizon -- usually around six to eight years, depending on the species. The politicians are bound to think about the next election and have to take into account that a lot of the electorate is heavily dependent on the fishery. They will therefore tend to think and act in terms of a maximum of four years.

From a longer time perspective, say ten to twenty years, all participants in the fishery management conflict might very well agree on the same goal: to maximize profits from a sustainable cod stock. But each participant is caught up in their own time horizon. And each time horizon imposes its own rationality and logic.

The main goal of the study is to make explicit and understand the different time-horizons that are shaping and determining the thinking and behavior in the fishery management conflict. This will give a more precise understanding of the conflicts, and the rationality behind the irrational behavior.

The study will contribute to the understanding of the conflict and increase the chances for better fishery management in the future. As an exemplary study it will also shed new lights on the relationship between nature and society, with special relevance for the field of environmental protection and sustainable mangement, which in essence, is a question of time perspective.

Overfishing and the resulting depletion of the world’s fish stocks pose major risks. Not only can depletion trigger ecological disaster, reducing the fecundity and biodiversity of the world’s wildlife, but it can also undermine human food security and thereby contribute to widespread instability. Sustainable management of the world’s fisheries is an attempt to avoid these crises. However, various attempts to create and implement sustainable fishery practices have failed. Overfishing continues to such a degree that some scientists warn that within 50 years there may be hardly any fish left in the oceans. With the alarm bells ringing so loudly, why does overfishing continue to happen, and how come this well‐known problem is still not solved? In this thesis the overfishing problem is revisited and a new temporal approach to the overfishing problem is developed to better understand and explain this persistent predicament. It shows that overfishing should be reconceptualised as a temporal problem and, in particular, as an expression of a high time preference leading to overfishing. Time preference is understood as a temporal bias leading to a preference for present utility versus delayed utility. Therefore, while resolving and mitigating the social dilemma is a necessary condition to end overfishing, it is not a sufficient condition. It is argued that another factor leading to time preference is the institutional time horizon. The concept ‘institutional time horizon’ is influenced by John R. Searle’s understanding of institutions as collectively assigned status functions that come with deontic powers – that is obligations, rights, duties, and commitments – giving rise to desire‐independent reasons for actions. Applied to the temporality of actors’ behaviour it means that, at certain points in time, actors have certain commitments and certain results have to be achieved. Thus commitments, obligations, duties and rights are temporalised. From this temporalisation of the society, we get the institutional time horizon. The actor now has an obligation to do certain things, take certain measures and/or is committed to achieve results before the end of the given term. This creates an institutional time horizon where everything within the horizon has overwhelming importance compared to anything beyond the time horizon, thus giving rise to the time preference. The research is based on a detailed case study of fishery management in the Faroe Islands, using participatory observation, document analysis and qualitative interview as key methodical tools. The overarching picture that emerges from the case study is this: fishermen were not racing against each other for the fish, which might be explained as an unresolved social dilemma, but instead they were collectively racing against time, which is better accounted for by the factors of institutional time horizon and time preference.

Keywords: Overfishing, Sustainable Management, Faroe Islands, Social Dilemmas, Time Preference, Time horizons, Temporalisation of Society, Institutions, Risk, Political Sociology, Environmental Sociology, Decision‐making, Case Study.


PhD Thesis: Sustainable Management - a Question of Time"
Defended at Faculty of Human, Social, and Political Science, University of Cambridge, october 2013

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