What can a responsible relationship to nature look like in a world where humanity is disrupting fundamental ecological processes at a planetary scale? Achieving sustainability is increasingly argued to require a shift towards ‘stewardship’, but often without clearly defining what the concept means or exactly how it is might address the unprecedented challenges of our time. In his doctoral thesis, Johan Enqvist addresses this knowledge gap by studying civic engagement in urban stewardship proposing a framework for how to understand stewardship as a relation between humans and the rest of nature, based on three dimensions: care, knowledge and agency.
Enqvist provides an overview of key challenges to environmental management in urban areas, focusing especially on how local residents and civic groups may contribute to addressing them – actors who are often the direct beneficiaries of urban ecosystem services despite lacking formal authority to manage the areas that provide them. Three empirical case studies demonstrate how these actors contribute to stewardship of urban water resources and ecosystems, by counteracting governance traps, improving social–ecological fit and promoting access to and protection of lakes, streams and waterfronts.
The thesis also reviews the stewardship literature, and draws attention to the need for sustainability science to better engage with research about the care dimension of stewardship. Values, emotions, sense of place and responsibility all matter for understanding how humans relate to nature, and as shown in this thesis, also play an important role in helping identify solutions to spatial and temporal misalignment between management institutions and ecosystems.
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