Murdoch University Research Repository

Welcome to the Murdoch University Research Repository

The Murdoch University Research Repository is an open access digital collection of research
created by Murdoch University staff, researchers and postgraduate students.

Learn more

People in context: critical social dimensions in complex landscape systems

Wardell-Johnson, Angela (2007) People in context: critical social dimensions in complex landscape systems. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

PDF - Front Pages
Download (395kB)
PDF - Whole Thesis
Download (6MB)


Landscape-based approaches to solving environmental issues have been widely recommended by scientists and policy makers. These issues are found at the interface of social and ecological systems. Understanding the social dimensions of landscape issues has been suggested as part of the solution. This doctoral research integrated theoretical concepts with survey-based numerical taxonomy and qualitative analysis to explore three social dimensions underpinning decision-making at the landscape scale in rural Australia.

These linked social dimensions that provided a research focus were sense of place and accompanying social capital that is embedded within private, social and institutional practice in discourses of the environment. Complex systems theory provided the framework to explore the interactions and relationships between these dimensions and to describe the emergent processes.

The first phase of this research developed theoretically and empirically derived conceptual models for the three dimensions. These models provided a basis for operationalisation for the survey-based numerical taxonomy in the second phase. Data for this analysis was collected through survey questionnaires (124 returned with 60% response rate) from two social catchments (the Katanning Zone in the Blackwood Basin in Western Australia and the Condamine Headwaters in the upper reaches of the Murray Darling Basin in Queensland). The results from the numerical taxonomy provided a focus for semi-structured interviews (24 representative participants) that provided further analysis through qualitative methods in the third phase.

Combining conceptual models with quantitative and qualitative analysis was used to expose three emergent processes that maintain resilience in these landscape systems. The first was formed through the interactive social relationships between communities of place, identity and interest that constitute social catchments. The second emergent process formed at the nexus of local, scientific and Indigenous frameworks of knowledge. The interactive social catchment relationships and three knowledge frameworks dictated the relative weightings of social, ecological and economic values of the triple bottom line, which formed the third emergent process. It is suggested that the interactions of these emergent processes characterised resilience in these systems.

The social dimensions in this thesis provided a focus that suggests that the interactions between community in a social catchment governs the predominance of knowledge form and the accommodation of the values in the triple bottom line. The integration of theoretical, quantitative and qualitative approaches can be couched within a complex systems framework. This contributes to a re-framing of the social relationships in landscapes to identify social catchments as the appropriate focus for interaction in decision-making at the landscape scale.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Environmental Science
Supervisor(s): Hobbs, Richard
Item Control Page Item Control Page


Downloads per month over past year