• Networks of change: extending Alaska-based communication networks to meet the challenges of the anthropocene

      Hum, Richard E.; Taylor, Karen; Chapin, F. Stuart, III; Koskey, Michael; Brower, Pearl Kiyawn Nageak; Carlson, Cameron (2017-08)
      The Anthropocene is a contested term. As I conceptualize it throughout this dissertation, the Anthropocene is defined by an increased coupling of social and environmental systems at the global scale such that the by-products of human processes dominate the global stratigraphic record. Additionally, I connect the term to a worldview that sees this increased coupling as an existential threat to humanity's ability to sustain life on the planet. Awareness that the planet-wide scale of this coupling is fundamentally a new element in earth history is implicit in both understandings. How individuals and communities are impacted by this change varies greatly depending on a host of locally specific cross-scale factors. The range of scales (physical and social) that must be negotiated to manage these impacts places novel demands on the communication networks that shape human agency. Concern for how these demands are being met, and whose interests are being served in doing so, are the primary motivation for my research. My work is grounded in the communication-oriented theoretical traditions of media ecology and the more recent social-ecological system conceptualizations promoted in the study of resilience. I combine these ideas through a mixed methodology of digital ethnography and social network analysis to explore the communication dynamics of four Alaska-based social-ecological systems. The first two examples capture communication networks that formed in response to singular, rapid change environmental events (a coastal storm and river flood). The latter two map communication networks that have formed in response to more diffuse, slower acting environmental changes (a regional webinar series and an international arctic change conference). In each example, individuals or organizations enter and exit the mapped network(s) as they engage in the issue and specific communication channel being observed. Under these parameters a cyclic pattern of network expansion and contraction is identified. Expansion events are heavily influenced by established relationships retained during previous contraction periods. Many organizational outreach efforts are focused on triggering and participating in expansion events, however my observations highlight the role of legacy networks in system change. I suggest that for organizations interested in fostering sustainable socialecological relationships in the Anthropocene, strategic intervention may best be accomplished through careful consideration of how communicative relationships are maintained immediately following and in between expansion events. In the final sections of my dissertation I present a process template to support organizations interested in doing so. I include a complete set of learning activities to facilitate organizational use as well as examples of how the Alaska Native Knowledge Network is currently applying the process to meet their unique organizational needs.