Our Master's students on a recent field trip, studying urban ecosystem services in Stockholm.

All you need to know about our Masters programme

Course leaders explain key issues and what students can expect from it

The new Masters' programme on Social-Ecological Resilience for Sustainable Development has just been launched. The programme consists of four courses that together introduce students to the essence of resilience thinking and social-ecological research.

We asked Director of Studies Lisa Deutsch and some of the course leaders to describe more in detail what it will include and what the students can expect from it:
Q: In short, how would you describe this new Masters' programme?
Lisa Deutsch: Well, this two-year programme gives students an introduction to the complex interactions between humans and nature. It's transdisciplinary, which means that we will look at various approaches to systems involving humans and natural systems, ie. social-ecological systems. Above all, it's a programme that will introduce students to the concept of resilience and how it can be applied to the management of ecosystems.  
Q: What are the main skills and knowledge sets students will develop during this programme?
Lisa Deutsch: Our programme aims to develop three areas. First, they will learn how to do scientific research on social-ecological resilience. This requires understanding the key questions and methods of interdisciplinary environmental science. Second, they will gain a solid grounding in the theory and knowledge that science has accumulated around social-ecological resilience, including the development of this research area and what areas are currently at the uncertain, unclear, but exciting frontiers of science. Third, they will acquire a basic understanding of a diverse set of approaches to the management and governance of social-ecological systems. They will put this experience into practice in their Master's thesis research.
Q: The term Anthropocene is now widely used in environmental research and indeed a central part of the programme. What does it actually mean?
Garry Peterson: The Anthropocene, or The Age of Human, is a way of capturing the way that the Earth, its biogeochemical cycles, land cover, and distribution of species are all strongly shaped by human action. If we acknowledge this reality it changes our analysis of ecological or social process from viewing them in isolation to recognizing that they can be usefully approached in an integrated fashion. This Master's programme focuses on social-ecological systems because the entire Earth has become a social-ecological system, and it focuses on resilience, because the continued turbulent development of the Anthropocene requires that richer understanding of resilience.
Q: Social-ecological resilience as a concept isn't necessarily easy to understand, how will you explain it to our new students?
Miriam Huitric: Social-ecological resilience is the capacity of an integrated system of people and nature to deal with change and continue to develop. It's about the capacity to withstand shocks and disturbances such as climate change or financial crises and using such events to catalyse renewal and innovation. It's an extremely exciting concept!
Q: Students will also learn more about the “environmentalist's paradox". What is that?
Garry Peterson: The "environmentalist's paradox" is the mismatch between the degradation of nature and the rise in the wellbeing of humanity - this situation is a paradox from the perspective of an environmentalist who believes that human wellbeing depends on nature. Colleagues and I wrote an article in 2010 analyzing this situation. Different scientific disciplines have different explanations for this apparent paradox, and comparing the evidence for and against these explanations is a useful way to develop an interdisciplinary understanding of the Challenge of the Anthropocence.
Q: And then there is Planetary Boundaries...exciting stuff for students?
Lisa Deutsch: Very much so. The Planetary Boundaries concept has become central to much of the research we do at the centre. It basically refers to research conducted by a group of 28 internationally-renowned scientists in 2009. The scientists first identified the Earth System processes and potential biophysical thresholds, which, if crossed, could generate unacceptable environmental change for humanity. They then proposed the boundaries that should be respected in order to reduce the risk of crossing these thresholds.
Q: This programme is transdisciplinary, what kind of introduction will the students get to scientific theory and various academic disciplines?
Miriam Huitric: Students will be exposed to both of these throughout their time at the centre — both in courses as well as through interactions with staff. During the courses this is dealt with in two ways — one is the incorporation of different disciplines in the courses as this reflects the needs of the questions we address and two, by having a discussion of the basis, content and, similarities and differences among disciplines.
Q: Students will also be introduced to Systems theory. What is that?
Örjan Bodin: Systems theory embraces a more holistic approach to understanding reality. Instead of focusing only on the parts of a complex reality, systems theory focuses in on the "sum" of the parts. It is based on the underlying assumption that to understand a system, you need to understand how its parts are interacting and interdependent. Since its emergence in early 1900s, systems theory has found its way into both the natural and the social sciences, and is now commonly used in both science and practice across different fields and applications.
Q: Just like Systems theory, students will also learn more about regime shifts. What is a regime shift and how will the students be able to analyse them?
Oonsie Biggs: In many ways ecological regime shift is like a stock market collapse: it is large, abrupt and heavy on the wallet. The collapse of Canada's Newfoundland cod fishery in the early 1990s directly affected the livelihoods of some 35,000 fisherman and fish processing plant workers, and led to a decline of over $200 million dollars per annum in cod landing revenues. However, there is one fundamental difference between the stock market and an ecological regime shift. Where stock markets usually bounce back, ecological regime shifts are notoriously difficult to predict and cause long-lasting changes to the ecosystem.
Q: There's a module called Drama of the Commons. Sounds interesting, what does mean?
Miriam Huitric: Departing from Garrett Hardin's article in 1968 on overexploitation, the "Tragedy of the Commons", this module will in essence give the students an introduction to the management of common pool resources in the context of social-ecological systems. It's a module that will use various theories and methods such as game theory, social network analysis and institutional analysis to understand real-world challenges. This leads into the following module on adaptive governance. During both of these modules students will also be asked to contribute to a new blog on the adaptive governance of social-ecological systems.  
 Q: The last part of the programme focuses on governance and management of social-ecological systems. What will students learn from this?
Miriam Huitric: This course builds on the previous courses, so based on the acquired understanding of how social-ecological systems work and the problems they are facing, how do we manage and govern them? This is a real challenge even at local levels, but we live in a globalized world that is undergoing rapid and complex changes — so management and governance are having to change. But how? This is what the course looks into.
Q: How will the students be assessed? Are there exams or projects?
Lisa Deutsch: This varies from module to module. In almost every lecture there is some kind of hands-on activity: developing an individual research question, doing statistical analysis of data gathered from a UN database etc. Students will work individually and in groups. Often groups will work around a problem and present it to the class. There are few traditional, in-class exams.
Also, there is a progression throughout the programme in the level of our expectations on students' ability to do independent research — formulating questions, identifying and applying relevant theories and concepts, research design and methods... and this culminates in the Master's thesis.  
Q: What courses are available for the optional 7,5 hp credits?
Lisa Deutsch: We have a traineeship course that we often recommend. This is an opportunity to work with centre researchers on an in-house project. The benefits are that students can experience doing research and can also be useful preparation for the thesis. Students can also take other courses (at any university) that they feel that they need for their thesis work, like methods training or a specialised course on, say, integrated water management. They need to get it approved by the Programme Director first though.
Q: Do you need a specific background to study on this programme? Does it require the knowledge of certain basics in environmental research?
Johan Ahlenius: No. The only formal prerequisites are an undergraduate degree and proper skills in English. You should have a deeply rooted interest in environmental issues and sustainable development regardless of your educational or professional background. You will enjoy studying at Stockholm Resilience Centre if you are problem-oriented and curious about transdisciplinarity. The programme attracts Swedish as well as international students from many different backgrounds.

Want to know more?

Related info

Contact Programme Director Miriam Huitric or Education Administrator Cornelia Ludwig.


Stockholm Resilience Centre is a collaboration between Stockholm University and the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

Stockholm Resilience Centre
Stockholm University, Kräftriket 2B
Phone: +46 8 674 70 70

Organisation number: 202100-3062
VAT No: SE202100306201