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Social-Ecological Systems Meta-Analysis Database: Theory

Marginalization and degradation

Variable relationship:

Otherwise environmentally innocuous local production systems can undergo a transition to overexploitation of the natural resources on which they depend as a result of state development interventions (External Support) and/or increasing integration in regional and global markets (Market; Market Scale). This shift may lead to increasing poverty and social marginalization (Economic Status), high levels of dependence (Economic Dependence) on poorly productive resources (Productivity), and cyclically increasing overexploitation (Commons Condition Trend) (Grossman 1998; Hecht and Cockburn 2010; Schmink and Wood 2013; Watts 2013).

Note: Marginalization is a process whereby politically and socially marginal people are pushed into ecologically marginal spaces and economically marginal production (Productivity), resulting in (1) increasing demands on the marginal productivity of ecosystems, and (2) increasing social vulnerability to risks.

Scientific Field
Component Type(s)


VariableRoleRole ExplanationValue
MarketsUnderlying independent variableIncreasing integration into markets causes overexploitation of natural resources and increasing social marginalization (poverty and inequality) Present
External supportUnderlying independent variableGovernment support in the form of 'development' projects to e.g. increase agricultural productivity can increase social marginalization and resource degradationExtensive support
Market scaleUnderlying independent variableThe larger the scale at which markets for this resource operate, the less connected the market is with local resource use dynamics and the higher the risk is that demand driven resource exploitation reaches unsustainable levels.Large in scale
Economic statusProximate independent variableEconomic status of marginalized groups decreases as a result of market integration and government 'development' interventions. With increased poverty, users become less elastic to reosurce management measures and conservation.Low
ProductivityProximate independent variablePolitically and socially marginal people are pushed into ecologically marginal spaces that are less productive and more vulnerable to given resource demand. Poorly productive
Economic dependenceIntermediate outcomeCommons users become highly dependent on the resources they have available.Very dependent
Commons condition trendFinal outcomeResource use conditions are likely to decrease in low productivity resource patches that are used by user groups that highly depend on resource use for their subsistence.Worsened

Related Theories

TheoryRelationshipCharacterizing Variables
Poverty and resource degradationcontains
Market-driven resource declinerelated
Rational depletion of natural resourcesrelated
Crowding out from external supportrelated

Related Studies


Schmink, M., & Wood, C. H. (1992/2013). Contested frontiers in Amazonia (rev. ed.). Columbia University Press.


Hecht, Susanna B., and Alexander Cockburn. The fate of the forest: developers, destroyers, and defenders of the Amazon (revised ed.). University of Chicago Press, 2010.


Grossman, L. S. 1998. The political ecology of bananas: contract farming, peasants, and agrarian change in the Eastern Caribbean. Univ of North Carolina Press.

Watts, Michael J. (1989/2013) Silent violence: Food, famine, and peasantry in northern Nigeria (rev. ed.). University of Georgia Press