Using a leverage points perspective to compare social-ecological systems: a case study on rural landscapes

Publikation: Beiträge in ZeitschriftenZeitschriftenaufsätzeForschungbegutachtet


A leverage points perspective recognises different levels of systemic depth, ranging from the relatively shallow levels of parameters and feedbacks to the deeper levels of system design and intent. Analysing a given social-ecological system for its characteristics across these four levels of systemic depth provides a useful diagnostic to better understand sustainability problems, and can complement other types of cause-and-effect systems modelling. Moreover, the structured comparison of multiple systems can highlight whether sustainability challenges in different systems have a similar origin (e.g. similar feedbacks or similar design). We used a leverage points perspective to systematically compare findings from three in-depth social-ecological case studies, which investigated rural landscapes in southeastern Australia, central Romania, and southwestern Ethiopia. Inductive coding of key findings documented in over 60 empirical publications was used to generate synthesis statements of key findings in the three case studies. Despite major socioeconomic and ecological differences, many synthesis statements applied to all three case studies. Major sustainability problems occurred at the design and intent levels. For example, at the intent level, all three rural landscapes were driven by goals and paradigms that mirrored a productivist green revolution discourse. Our paper thus highlights that there are underlying challenges for rural sustainability across the world, which appear to apply similarly across strongly contrasting socioeconomic contexts. Sustainability interventions should be mindful of such deep similarities in system characteristics. We conclude that a leverage points perspective could be used to compare many other types of social-ecological systems around the world.

ZeitschriftEcosystems and People
Seiten (von - bis)119-130
Anzahl der Seiten12
PublikationsstatusErschienen - 03.2022


  • Ökosystemforschung - Farming, holistic management, paddock trees, path dependence, productivism, smallholders, Transylvania