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CRITICAL SYSTEMS THINKING AND DIALOGICAL BOUNDARY CRITIQUE
Critical system thinking (CST) offers a 'third wave' of systems thinking which attempts to redress the failure of traditional systems approaches to address dimensions of power (Midgley, 2000). In the pragmatist tradition of CST, the facilitation of dialogical boundary critique is proposed as an avenue for enabling citizen participation in decision making structures of modern democracies. Whilst boundary critique is originally anchored in a Kantian philosophy of reason (Ulrich, 2000) it yet seeks to provide guidance on how to appreciate the situated character of knowledge through exploring situation-transcendent validity of stakeholder claims. Arguably, this places dialogical boundary critique in an intermediate position in the debate between theories of communicative rationality and localized ideation of, for instance, social constructionism and post-structuralism. This is particularly evident in its mergence of a Habermasian acceptance of universal communicative competencies with the genealogical deconstruction of the given order through critical questioning (Hoy and McCarty, 1994). Dialogical boundary critique offers a methodology for integrating these perspectives to reframe stakeholder processes.
To transform this 'critical kernel' of systems thinking into practice, Werner Ulrich has proposed the methodology of dialogical boundary critique and the framework of critical systems heuristics (CSH) to enable collective reflection on how 'the meaning of a proposition depends on how we bound the relevant reference system, that is, the context that matters when it comes to assessing the merits and defects of the proposition' (Ulrich, 2000, p. 5; 2005). The notion of boundary judgements represents a constructionist view on knowing as the act of bounding of components of reality into knowable objects (Berger and Luckmann, 1966). The relationship between knowing and learning is contested through a variety of theoretical traditions, some of which are categorized as cognitive learning theories (Blackmore, 2007). The cognitive dimension of learning takes a central role also in individualist behavioural and pedagogical learning models (e.g. Kolb et al., 2000; Bawden et al., 2007). However, whilst Ulrich's CSH rely on the cognitive dimension as its primary arena of operation, it does not neglect other aspects of the learning environment. As such, cognitive boundary judgements are proposed to determine which observations (facts) and evaluations (values) we appreciate and act in relation to (Midgley, 2000; Ulrich, 2000). Ulrich's (1998; 2005) framework CSH is intended to provide citizens and employees with tools for negotiating the acknowledgement of legitimate competencies in public or corporate dialogues. It represents an attempt to pragmatize the communicative situation through critical systemic questioning of assumptions and boundary judgements (Midgley, 2000). In the CSH framework 12 boundary problems, or categories, connected to one of four boundary issues are explored by means of a boundary question into each particular boundary problem (Table 1).
Also Soft Systems Methodology (SSM), initially proposed by Checkland and Scholes (e.g. Checkland, 1999) to manage transformations in corporate organizations, draws on a form of boundary critique through a set of 'a priori' categories (Clients, Actors, Transformation, Worldview, Owners, Environment--hence the mnemonic CATWOE) to model, compare and reflect on conceptual systems and implement human activity systems for systemic transformations. This methodology is used to guide participatory stakeholder analyses and critical learning based approaches in natural resource management (e.g. Powell and Osbeck, 2010).
Boundary critique is intended to provide a 'liberating language' for citizens in the negotiation of what comprises legitimate competency (Midgley, 2000, p. 149). The challenge of providing a liberating language for citizen participants is more difficult when they are invited into the negotiation of resource management dilemmas where they have to make sense of multiple and conflicting knowledge claims under conditions of controversy (Funtowicz and Ravetz, 2007; Ison et al., 2007). Within existing approaches to CST there are divergent views regarding the universality of boundary judgements and the relativization of moral judgments to local conditions. This is, for instance, reflected in the disagreement between Ulrich and Midgley on this topic. Midgley (2000) proposes that the facilitator is responsible for localizing the methodology of the boundary critique to the conditions of the intervention. This reflects the standpoint that Kantian boundary questions are not directly applicable as universal tools to facilitate situated forms of knowing as the cognitive domain is linked with other situated aspects of local context (e.g. Shen and Midgley, 2007).
This paper aims to make a contribution to this debate regarding the universality of dialogical boundary critique through investigating the application of the methodology in Philippine coastal resource management. In so doing, it also contributes to the still relative sparse body of theory growing from the practical application of CST in environmental management (see also Foote et al., 2007). The evidence derives from a stakeholder dialogue carried out between November 2007 and May 2008 in the Babuyan group of islands, bounded by the Balintang and Babuyan Channels in the northern Philippines. The approach to the stakeholder dialogue as a process of social learning for stakeholder self-organization is presented. Midgley's model for marginalization of issues is introduced as an analytical device to respond to the need for grounding the boundary critique. The analysis highlights the ritual expressions of contestation over illegal resource exploitation, the boundary conflicts associated with the clash of 'alliances', and the boundary issue of a 'void of illegitimacy'. The paper concludes with a discussion of the experiences that whilst the CSH may at the meta-theoretical level target the right boundary issues, the context of application (the rituals and the boundary conflict) poses a set of very significant needs for adaptation and localization.
CASE: PHILIPPINE COASTAL RESOURCE MANAGEMENT
Coastal resource management in the Philippines is being institutionalized in an integrated coastal management (ICM) policy paradigm (Cruz-Trinidad, 2003; White et al., 2005). Following the trend in the South East Asian region, the ICM regime espouses a shift towards increased stakeholder participation and balanced employment of coercive and non-coercive policy instruments (SEAFDEC, 2007; Alcala, 1998; Milne and Christie, 2005). This represents a reaction to former command-and-control management, bearing on the colonial imprint on Philippine natural resource management. Under Spanish rulers and American administrations, state-led centralized schemes, as elsewhere in the region, led to dissolution of common property regimes in the provinces and de facto open access to natural resources in many localities (Barut et al., 2003; Abinales and Amoroso, 2005; Dressier, 2006). Problems stemming from open access led to new approaches to conservation. The Philippines is today heralded for pioneering efforts in community-based coastal resource management converting open access into co-management regimes (Lowry et al., 2005; White et al. 2005). Balgos …