Gonzales R., Parrott. L.. 2012. Network theory in the assessment of the sustainability of social-ecological systems.. Geography Compass..

Network theory in the assessment of the sustainability of social-ecological systems.

TitleNetwork theory in the assessment of the sustainability of social-ecological systems.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsGonzales R., Parrott. L.
JournalGeography Compass.
Start Page6(2): 76-88.
Keywordsnetwork theory, resilience, social-ecological systems, sustainability


Coastal Cluster Themes: 


Reviews network theory as a tool for evaluating resilience as it relates to sustainability within SES’s

Geographic Focus: 


Key Findings: 

The concept of resilience is a key component for understanding sustainability within social-ecological systems (SES’s). SES’s are made up of diverse elements and the relationships between these elements form networks, which are complex and dynamic. Conceptualising relationships in this way provides an opportunity to apply various metrics which may aid in quantifying or evaluating resilience to system disturbance. This article reviews progress in network theory as it relates to resilience within SES’s and discusses its potential use in evaluating sustainability. A proxy of ‘robustness’ is used for resilience, characteristics of ‘robustness’ defined and these characteristics linked to network analysis metrics. Reliable modelling, particularly in relation to adequately capturing the dynamism of SES networks, and the availability of quality datasets are key challenges for this approach. Nonetheless, the application of network theory to the evaluation of SES’s is still in its early phases, and there is cause for optimism as the approach continues to mature.


Quantifying and evaluating resilience within SES’s subject to disturbance is becoming an increasing focus for practitioners and researchers and for improving learning in this area. The challenge of applying quantitative metrics to what are often qualitative measures in relation to resilience is an ongoing challenge. So too is the ability to adequately capture the dynamic relationships between social-ecological system elements over time and space. Approaches used in network theory analysis do however bring greater awareness to some of the issues associated with understanding interconnectivity within and between system elements and, in this sense, introduce an important tool for evaluating resilience and its relationship to sustainability of SES’s.