Theoretical, philosophical and methodological foundations of our approach
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Theoretical, philosophical and methodological foundations of our approach

Sustainable development approaches form the theoretical and philosophical basis of Cadaster Institute’s research aimed at avoiding global ecological crises, while recognizing the need to take account of a nation’s cultural traditions in the selection of environmental regulation methods. The threat of such crises focuses attention on the transitional state of anthropological and natural geosystems [1], or more precisely, on ensuring the sustainability of the transition from one previous and relatively balanced state to the next. In other words, in the modern dynamic word, the idea of sustainability is increasingly being seen not so much as a force for stability but more as the ability of systems to survive, adapt and develop during times of unpredictable change and even to overcome catastrophic events. Achieving a new equilibrium requires innovation, exceptional prediction skills and the development of new effective partnerships between corporations, governments, regional communities, and other interested stakeholders.

Such an approach to understanding the concept of sustainable development—in the sense closer to the concept of “resilience”—in relation to anthropological and natural geosystems at all levels of organization while recognising the danger of global ecological crises poses an extremely complex philosophical problem. Here, the ethics of preserving life take on a profound and essential meaning, a fact that has been recognised in the works of I. Kant, J. G Fichte, G.W.F. Hegel and particularly F.W.J. Schelling and suggests a departure from the sharp contrast of a subject and an object [2]. Humans, on the one hand, are a product of the environment and therefore an essential part of it. On the other, a human being is a single entity capable of understanding principles such as his or her own existence and development, as well as Nature. This duality, as recognised by Schelling, constitutes the most difficult puzzle within any theory of the relationship between humans and Nature. S.N. Bulgakov called Schelling “a philosopher of Nature and objective reality” [3]. Schelling put forward two profound and vital ideas that are particularly important today in relation to the theory of sustainable development: (1) The identity of a subject and object in their dynamic development; and (2) An understanding of Nature as a living growing organism.

The subject and object logic of Schelling’s natural philosophy is particularly relevant when considering the theory of sustainable development given it bestows a certain dignity on Nature, regardless of humans’ self-development. In this context, Nature has a meaning of its own and combines all the things true, benevolent and beautiful. This is the reason why humans are therefore obliged to honour and admire Nature as an image of the absolute, rather than as a construct of their own creation. Such a philosophical and methodological approach allows us to gain a greater understanding and fresh appraisal of the legacy of E. Leroux, P. Teilhard de Chardin, V.I. Vernadsky, E. Bauer, N.N. Moiseev, P.G. Kuznetsov and others. In our research into the problems of the interaction of ethics and economics in relation to environmental regulation, we use approaches of “ethical economics” devised by P. Koslowski. The observations of S.N. Bulgakov have attracted our particular interest as they can be applied to philosophical and methodological aspects of sustainable development, as well as its humanistic essence, while the philosophy of ecological crises has been addressed in the works of H. Jonas and V. Hesle, particularly in the validation of the “responsible behaviour” imperative.

The perception of Nature’s very essence has been changed through Schelling’s subject and object approach, not only in terms of objects of natural origin and natural resources but in its “totality”. It should be pointed out that, by the end of the 20th century, the idea of the “totality” of Nature had been significantly reappraised both within phenomenological philosophy and in the sociology of sustainable natural resource use. Such a phenomenological understanding of Nature, as well as a new appreciation of the fundamental difference between Nature as a constituent element of the “living world” and as a natural resource complex, has enabled us, as part of our methodology, to make greater use of behavioural geography approaches developed D. Gold and G. White, as well as the views of F. Braudel, A.G. Frank and the French School of Human Geography, notably P. Clavalier.

Modern philosophical thought is increasingly leaning towards acceptance of varied forms of rationality. Within the framework of the unity of rationality, scientific, religious and other types of rationality are not alternatives but elements of a single multi-faceted consciousness. Such a philosophical and methodological view does not allow humans to be considered an entity that has been accidentally “removed” from the natural environment or even become its natural enemy (as, for example, assumed by the theory of biocentric isolationism).

We believe that the desire for survival is common to most people who are capable of making environmentally informed choices, provided they have proper access to relevant information, although stereotypical behavioural patterns can significantly limit a range of decision options. Understanding the principle and dynamics of decision-making in the area of environmental protection, the socio-cultural determination of formal and informal ecological constraints and regulation is a vital modern day task in improving environmental performance and land-use planning based on sustainability principles.

Cadaster Institute is using the behavioural model of human responsibility in their research as it enables us to understand and rationalise motivation for environmental work. This chosen human model presupposes appropriate change within the conceptual psyche, i.e. a shift in emphasis in the interpretation of basic theories such as work, incentives and assessments from a value-based perspective. Partial rationality in people’s behaviour is also an additional factor, along with the important issue of responsibility. We are of the view that excessive belief in the absolute truth of natural scientific knowledge and humanity’s technical skills, as well as focusing exclusively on the notion of human happiness (which is largely subjective), is a very dangerous thing.

The dualism between responsible behaviour as the basis for motivation for environmental work and the recognition of an individual’s partially rational behaviour requires the development of special management tools, an issue that has yet to be fully resolved anywhere in the world.

Responsible behaviour during the lives of present and future generations that is geared towards averting global environmental threats implies a reduction in environmental risks, as well as preventing conflicts around natural resource use at minimal cost. Moreover, the development and implementation of sustainable development approaches are closely related to the identification of opportunities and limits for establishing restrictions and regulating the development of socio-natural and man-made systems, together with deliberate action in these areas as a societal response to ever increasing risks to development. A great deal of research, much of it undertaken by U. Beck [4], has shown that recent decades have witnessed a significant rise in the levels of risk production, including ecological [5] risks. Growing risks suggest a change both in the overall developmental trends in countries and regions as well as in environmental management approaches, which can be seen within the context of society’s general reflection and response, or its individual institutions that are involved in the production, distribution and “consumption” of environmental risks.

As orientation in space is one of the fundamental dimensions of human existence that formulates a structured worldview, a picture of the world and human activities, it is possible to speak in terms of creating an explicit or implicit form of spatial risks. Such risks including environmental risks at all regional organisational levels are essentially a geographic space viewed in riskology terms with differing regional characteristics as human existence is an amalgamation of relationships between geographical objects found in a particular area that develop over time [6]. Humans exist within an institutional environment, in a world full of risk and uncertainty. From this perspective, environmental institutions can be seen as a collection of fundamental world views, social norms, and laws that form the basis of regional systems for managing environmental constraints and in regulating individual choice.

Ecological risk reflection manifests itself in the form of an institutional framework for environmental regulation and constraints. Nature conservation institutions limit or control natural resource use, while their practical implementation of environmental management helps to reduce levels of uncertainty in determining the ecological impacts caused by commercial activities. Environmental institutions that emerge in response to the public’s behavioural reaction to real or imagined threats to their safety do so not only according to the nature of the particular hazard, but are largely defined by their own perception of risks that face decision-makers, i.e. individual resource managers.

In our research on environmental institutions and organisations, we are developing a neo-institutional analysis methodology with its foundation in the works by R. Coase and D. North. Our approach emphasises identification and evaluation of a socio-culturally determined range of viable decision options for managers of natural resources and ecosystem goods. Institutional environmental analysis has received new impetus with the emergence of such methodological approaches as the theory of “path dependence” and the “QWERTY effect”. Other useful theoretical developments have also come to the fore, known as “institutional traps”. Experience gained by Cadaster Institute in institutional research has enabled us to develop a socio-culturally determined range of potential institutional changes in the environmental sector; provided an opportunity to explain the various trajectories in developing environmental management practices, and identified the limitations in borrowing experience from other nations in relation to specific areas.

An analysis of widely acknowledged geographic features of specific regions enables understanding of the dynamics of change in formal and informal institutions. . Consequently, the focus of Cadaster Institute is not so much the institutional environment (which limits and regulates ecological impacts) but rather a state, a dynamic, a structure, and a feature of the institutional environmental sector as the most important part of a geographic area [7]. One should add that the institutional environment has been closely studied in sociology as it is seen as a form of existence within the social sphere, an area which has been addressed in the works of both international and domestic researchers. P. Sorokin was the first to come up with the social sphere concept, while P. Bourdieu has also made a major contribution in this area.

The institutional environment regulates the stability and orderly development of regions from an environmental perspective, as well as the activities of natural resource users. As K. Polanyi and D. North have both noted, institutional regional matrices [8] are created and developed through the influence of social, cultural, economic and other factors. Nature conservation institutions are in a constant state of flux when it comes to territorial matrices, each interacting with one another.

Environmental activities that are based on sustainable development approaches imply the need for a new sociality which, without compromising personal or group autonomy, could be combined with a civic duty and the notion of social welfare [9]. This idea is linked to the theoretical basis for the increased attention being focused on a different type of society as a means of resolving complex environmental problems in the development of a particular area, as well as devising regional ecological control methods for problem-solving by ensuring the effective horizontal coordination of organisations and individuals.

In pursuing this line of research, Cadaster Institute is using the idea of the social economy, in particular the theory of “responsive communitarians” [10]. A. Etzioni, who, by and large, holds liberal social views, has criticised a number of its basic principles which, in his view, fail to meet the requirements of modern social development, or more specifically, the thesis of the market’s self-sufficiency and unlimited individual freedom. This is based on the premise that a well-ordered human society is vital in promoting sustainable development and environmental protection within a community, linking the rights of the individual with those of socially-aware entrepreneurs which allows these rights to be restricted if they are provided by society and exercised by the State.

Sustainable environmental management in relation to increasing resilience and reducing the vulnerability of natural anthropological geosystems is integral to conflict control and prevention. In undertaking this line of research, we have been heavily reliant on A.G. Zdravomyslov’s sociology of conflict, which has been further developed in Russia through the works of L. Coser, R. Dahrendorf, and other specialists for whom conflict is one form of social interaction as a process which, under certain circumstances, can have destructive as well as positive (integrated) impacts on the “social organism”. In contrast to other sociologists, L. Coser took it upon himself to define the conditions under which the effects of conflicts can be either positive or negative.

Inequality in social status results in variable access of individuals, social groups or communities to development resources and is an issue in terms of social conflicts that occur within the natural resource use sector. As a result, the problem of resources as a means of achieving growth objectives has to be considered in any definition of the nature of conflict. The most common fall-outs that occur within the environmental sector are those which are caused by a mismatch of ecological objectives at various regional organisational levels, ethnic disagreements related to access to natural resources and ecosystem services, and micro-level conflicts brought about as a result of different levels of commitment on behalf of individuals, local communities, and principal resource managers.

In order to prevent conflicts, reduce tensions, and, above all, to achieve a positive outcome, we believe it is best to employ socio-culturally determined tools developed by “Cadaster” Institute, including: Identifying and formalising socio-cultural elements of regional growth; Determining and institutionalising environmental priorities (as agreed by relevant stakeholders); Maintaining the balance of powers of resource managers and key interest groups during times of institutional environmental change; Coordinating nature conservation objectives at various regional organisational levels; Sharing power in areas which have a multi-ethnic population; Coordinating the interests of individuals and local communities in the environmental sphere by encouraging the development of regional civil autonomy.

It is clear that socio-cultural methodology for environmental management implies an appropriate level of data support. In scientific and analytical research undertaken by Cadaster Institute using an agreed philosophical and methodological approach to humanising environmental activities, attention has been focused on refining the content and dissemination of a list of sustainable development, environmental, and “green” economy indicators. In this instance, we are chiefly referring to the development of the System of Environmental and Economic Accounting (SEEA), which is linked to the System of National Accounts (SNA). Their use in geographical research has revealed previously unrecorded processes within regional development, including the socially dangerous depletion of natural resources and ecosystem services.

Another key area of Cadaster Institute’s research is socio-cultural assessments of the institutional environmental sector. This line of thinking takes advantage of the emergence of etnometric tools that, in particular, facilitate broadening the evaluation of the impact of socio-cultural factors on the development of institutional systems measured against common indices, thereby enhancing our understanding of the historical and cultural bases for development. The use of socio-cultural indices enables us to make an a priori assessment of a particular culture as a factor in determining developmental trends which limit the choice of viable decision options for securing institutional or organisational change in the environmental sector.  The set of indices devised by G. Hofstede is currently the most well-developed in methodological terms which therefore enable assessments to be made of the behaviour of social groups according to a number of factors: Distance in relation to power; Efforts to avoid uncertainty; Commitment measured on a scale of “individualism-collectivism”; Ways in which preferred decisions are made in terms of “masculinity and femininity”; Extending goal setting over time on a scale of “indulgence versus self-restraint”.
When applied to natural resource use, the relevant scale is complemented by an index that characterises the stability of property rights relating to natural resources and features [11].

The practical use of socio-cultural indices allows us to (1) Clarify those socio-cultural factors, which affect the success of certain environmental institutions within particular communities; (2) Highlight the influence of culture on environmental sustainability using quantitative factor analysis methods and comparable indicators; (3) Determine a range of viable decision options in the environmental sector, together with the limits of ecological constraints and developmental control of socio-natural systems determined by value-based attitudes dominant in a given society.

It is important to bear in mind that socio-cultural indices are not set in stone, although any changes that occur do so very slowly. In our view, etnometric research on ecological sustainability and environmental activities involving regular monitoring of socio-cultural indices should be incorporated within a methodology for programme-driven environmental management at all regional organisational levels.

Consequently, a socio-cultural methodology for environmental management ensures compliance with ecological constraints and regulation by means of regional rationalisation of the institutional environment from the standpoint of sustainable development. Such a methodology aims to encourage innovation in the environmental sector, as well as help reduce economic and social costs involved in resolving ecological challenges. This implies placing special emphasis on actively encouraging a level of environmental commitment among people and their communities as a means of bringing public and private interests together in undertaking environmental activity. Complying with environmental restrictions and controls involves: (1) paying extra attention to an individual’s behavioural preference, (2) improving performance of common and socio-culturally determined environmental institutions; and (3) reducing economic and social costs involved in resolving environmental problems. It is particularly important that such a methodology creates new opportunities for studying different aspects of environmental protection and sustainable natural resource use, e.g., the interaction of the centre and the regions, establishing local autonomy, institutional resolution of cross-border transport issues, and environmental assessments of local impacts caused by global climate change. Such a tool is particularly useful in helping to reduce tensions and preventing conflicts within the natural resource sector.

Socio-cultural methodology enables one to identify problems involved in improving environmental management from a theoretical, methodological, and applied perspectives.

From a theoretical and methodological viewpoint, there is a growing consensus around the role and importance of regional socio-cultural features in environmental management in terms of its humanising effect. Any institutional analysis of environmental activity involves devoting attention to the identification of socio-culturally derived features in regional development that impact nature conservation institutions.

Approaches to environmental management developed according to socio-cultural methodology are based on the “responsible person” model that recognises partial rationality in individuals’ behaviour. At the heart of this model, together with the principles set out in the theories of neo-institutionalism and socio-economics, lies the “responsibility imperative” which is driven by the need to prevent the possibility of an environmental disaster. It is just such a model that combines economic and non-economic aspects of behaviour, thereby enables us to study an individual’s motivation for environmental activity as well as that of their own community, and to reflect the interests of current and future generations. It also serves as an effective tool in any institutional analysis of environmental activity.

The application of socio-cultural methodology to environmental management has shown that one of its main tasks is reducing the intensity of disagreements that arise with the introduction of new nature conservation institutions into areas, which have different socio-cultural conditions. Undertaking an assessment of the effectiveness of such an institutional import is vital and should always be area-specific. In order to directly manage disagreements that arise in the practices of environmental institutions operating under different socio-cultural conditions, it is suggested that a special set of methods for regulatory instruments be put in place. It is also important to develop new approaches to programme-driven management of environmental activities that include an enhanced role for the local level and horizontal coordination tools and focus on strengthening organisational functions within regional environmental management. These activities are only possible on a solid foundation of meaningful sustainability and “green” economy indicators, together with socio-cultural measurements of the state of the institutional environment.

[1] Sochava B.V. An introduction to the study of geosystems. Novosibirsk: Science, Siberian section, 1978, (319 pp).

[2] The relevance of such thinking has been most clearly expressed and developed by Schelling. G. Immler, one of Germany’s leading experts in the field of natural resource management, has provided an explanation of the reasons for an ecological crisis.

[3] Bulgakov S.N. The philosophy of economy, edited by O. Platonov. Moscow: Institute of Russian Civilisation, 2009, (464 pp).

[4] Beck U. Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. London, 1992; Idem. Ecological Politics in the Age of Risk, Cambridge, 1994; Reflexive Modernisation, Politics, Tradition and Aesthetics in Modern Social Order/ U. Beck (editor), A. Giddens, L. Scott, Stanford, 1994; Giddens A. The Consequences of Modernity. Cambridge, 1992; Luhmann N. Risk: A Sociological Theory, New York, 1993; Yanitsky O.N. Modernisation in Russia according to the concept of a“risk society”//Where is Russia headed? Generalities and Specifics in Contemporary Development, Volume 4, edited by T.I. Zaslavskaya, Moscow, 1997, (pp 37-48); Environmental policy in a “global risk society”//Eurasia: Nature and People, 1997. No.2-3, (pp 2-6).

[5] Environmental risk is the probability of an event occurring that has harmful ecological effects and adverse impacts as a result of economic and other activities, as well as natural and man-made disasters (Fomenko G.A. Development of environmental institutions as a risk reflection//Problems of regional ecology, 2011, No.2, (pp 86-91).

[6] Environmental institutions in modern day Russia/ G.A. Fomenko (scientific editor). Moscow: Science, 2010 (447 pp).

[7] Fomenko G.A. Environmental management: The basis for socio-cultural methodology. Moscow: Science, 2004, (390 pp).

[8] Polanyi suggested that an institutional matrix determines the economic relationship between humans, in addition to defining the place of economics within society. It also highlights the social origins of rights and responsibilities that determine the movement of both goods and individuals within and beyond the economic process. According to D. North’s definition, an institutional society matrix has its own particular basic structure of property rights and political system. K. Polanyi and D. North are also of the view that every society has its own individual institutional matrix.

[9] In our view, while there is no real antagonism between neo-institutionalism and socio-economics (whose methodologies largely respond to the needs of environmental management), there has been talk of the possibility of a new synthesis emerging. Whereas neo-institutional economics are focused on understanding the nature of institutions (including social and cultural aspects), socio-economics seek to develop an alternative incentive theory, in particular a category of the value of work that has deep cultural roots (people’s motivation for work is driven by a number of factors including psychological, social, cultural, as well as economic).

[10] From the English, community, община, сообщество.

[11] Fomenko G.A. A socio-cultural measurement of the development of environmental institutions. Yaroslavl, “Cadaster” Institute, 2014, (96 pp).