Friday, December 27, 2013

Preparing for the BES Year of Theory

As the New Year rings in, it is time to prepare for 2014 as the BES Year of Theory.  This designation highlights our concerted efforts to improve our ability to integrate across different scales of theory, from the most general and abstract, down through mid-level theories, and ultimately to specific models and hypotheses.  Further, we hope to improve our ability to integrate across our various social and biophysical research realms. 

To begin this effort it is important to understand the largest context of BES III research – the understanding of social-ecological heterogeneity over the long term.  Although BES III addresses the transformation of the sanitary to the sustainable city, the still larger theoretical context that is not flagged in the title of our current proposal.  There are many large theories of urban systems, but the one that we have followed from the very beginning is a theory of social-ecological heterogeneity.  That is, we have adopted a theory of the nature and effects of spatial pattern and the relationships across space of the components of human ecosystems.  The theory emphasizes the feedbacks between the social and the biophysical components of the human ecosystems of cities, and invites us to hypothesize and examine the interactions between these two components.

In order to navigate from the general theory to operational models and testable hypotheses, we have chosen three conceptual lenses: the theory of locational choice, the theory of urban metacommunities, and the theory of the urban stream dis/continuum.  These are three lenses to focus some of the immense detail of factors that affect – and are affected by – social-ecological heterogeneity. 

These three areas are not arbitrary, but they represent three necessary, general components of heterogeneity in urban systems: social differentiation; biotic potential; and flow of materials.  The interactions of these three very general features are sufficient to explain heterogeneity of structure and processes in both the social and biophysical realms of urban systems. 

The details of how these three processes work can be further understood by employing the five core research areas of the LTER Network: 1) productivity; 2) the movement of inorganic matter; 3) the movement of organic matter; 4) populations; and 5) disturbance.  The urban LTERs were additionally required to address two additional conceptual areas: 6) human effects on land cover change and their reciprocal relationships with ecosystem processes; and 7) social-ecological data and analysis.  These seven conceptual areas indicate the breadth of long-term data that must be linked to the theoretical structures.

The presentation is intentionally general and abstract.  The abstract diagrams and sketches of our general theory, its division into three major areas, each represented by more operational models, are intended to guide our statement of hypotheses and integrative activities.  This structure may also provide a “strategy screen” for evaluating new initiatives and the proposed continuation of existing activities.  The structure is a framework to be filled in through our meetings and activities over the next two years. 

Quarterly Project Meetings

Our Quarterly Project Meetings will promote theoretical clarification and intellectual integration.  Here are the general topics for the first three meetings of 2014

January 2014: Use of stormwater detention basins for integrated social-ecological research and application.  Meeting will include introduction and needs for intellectual integration.
·        April 2014: Clarification of the three theoretical lenses and hypotheses for integration.
·        June 2014: Assessment of existing and potential data streams relative to 7 LTER core areas and theoretical areas.

An Introductory Presentation

As an introduction to the work we will be doing the overview presentation is available in several places:

The BES Website.  This link will download the PowerPoint presentation directly to your computer.  Start the slideshow and the narration will run and the slides will advance automatically.

Google Drive.  On this platform, you can preview the slides.  The recorded narration does not appear on the Google preview app.  However, you can download the file to your computer, and play it in Microsoft’s PowerPoint. 

If you want a non-narrated form, but with notes embedded on the notes pane for each slide in Powerpoint, go here:

Also see the November 2013 post on the Year of Theory in general.