Panarchy: Theory and Application

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Authors: C.R. Allen, D.G. Angeler, A.S. Garmestani, L.H. Gunderson, C.S. Holling

Publication Year: 2014


Journal: IEEE International Conference on Digital Ecosystems and Technologies

Volume: 17

Issue: 4

Categories: Digital Transformation, Transformation


The panarchy concept provides a theory which covers many facets of complex system dynamics, which according to the authors is different from typically envisioned hierarchies. The authors of this paper discuss the use of the concept in the literature and highlight in their article where the concept could be useful. The authors first explain the adaptive cycle theory and then give implications in which they make statements on how the panarchy model can be utilized: in an abstract conceptual sense and as a model of system dynamics which gives rise to concrete and testable hypotheses. Stating out it becomes clear that the usage of the panarchy theory: as either a heuristic, or in an evocation as a framework by social scientists, is a way in which it was adopted. It is described in a broad sense in which different ‘systems’ the theory has been applied over the recent years. In most systems, the resilience, panarchy and cross-scale linkage is acknowledge, but not extended beyond a mere description. The Panarchy theory is ‘tested’ in the article, describing two items: regime changes and novelty. When a system’s resilience threshold is crossed the authors argue that a regime change occurs. In regime changes there are two type of regime changes which are identified: changing the structure of the system in question, and, structuring regimes varying with scale. To this respect, in the former the authors explain that there can be adaptive cycles nested within higher levels of the entire organization and for the latter it is explained that the adaptive cycles are discrete and non-overlapping. The novelty (described as the creation of new things or new combinations) is discussed in the sense that a heightened variability levels occur at the discontinuities which separates scaling regimes. It is argued with examples that there is high variation in resource abundance and location in space and time, but that there is also hardship for some and that there is an opportunity for others to successfully invade and exploit these locations/resources. It is compared to the complex system dynamics and resilience. Both factors (regime changes, novelty) need more explicit consideration in the future. Closing the article, the authors point out the current usage of the panarchy theoretical concept and how it could be further improved.