Doctoral Dissertation Research: Institutional Responses to a Changing Environment: Flooding and Natural Resource Access in the Okavango Delta, Botswana

Project: Research project

Project Details


This doctoral dissertation research project examines how social institutions that mediate access to natural resources respond to changing environments and the implications such responses have for people dependent on natural resource-based livelihoods. As the consequences of climate change increasingly impact communities across the globe, the local institutions that mediate access to natural resources will be critical in shaping effective adaptation practices. This project will inform scholarship on social and ecological change by integrating political ecology and social-ecological systems theory to analyze the relationships between institutions, environmental change, and resource access. The doctoral student will focus on institutional responses to environmental changes in the globally significant ecosystem of the Okavango Delta in Botswana. Seasonal floods are an integral part of life for the residents of the Okavango Delta, where rural livelihoods depend on the floodwaters for important natural resources. In recent years, however, increased flooding levels have displaced residents from their homes and disrupted livelihood systems. The student will examine how social institutions that affect the rules of use that determine access to natural resources are responding to these increases in flooding. She also will evaluate the ways in which these institutional responses enable and constrain residents' livelihood systems. Her qualitative study will use household-level semi-structured interviews and a structured survey to address three specific and interlinked questions: (1) What are the institutions that govern access to wetland resources in the Okavango Delta? (2) How are these institutions responding to increasing levels of flooding? (3) How do these responses impact the ability of residents to access resources and sustain livelihoods?

This project will enhance understanding of how social institutions shape resource access in an aquatic ecosystem, a type of system previously under explored in the geographic subfield of political ecology. It will strengthen the social-ecological systems (SES) framework developed by Elinor Ostrom by applying the framework within a dynamic aquatic ecosystem. This project will add to current scholarship that is working to provide empirical detail to the SES framework and will add new variables, including: gender, ethnicity, informal rules, and seasonal access patterns. More broadly, the project will highlight the importance of understanding the relationships among environmental changes, social institutions, and resource access across Africa south of the Sahara and in the developing world. The project will contribute to environmental and climate change adaptation policy in the Okavango Delta by indicating how institutions are currently responding to environmental changes and will assess how well positioned they are to help residents respond to predicted future increases in flooding variability. As a Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement award, this award also will provide support to enable a promising student to establish a strong independent research career.

Effective start/end date8/15/121/31/14


  • National Science Foundation: $13,579.00


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.