Human responses, resilience and vulnerability: An interdisciplinary approach to understanding past farm success and failure in Mývatnssveit, northern Iceland
Jennifer Brown (2010) Human responses, resilience and vulnerability: An interdisciplinary approach to understanding past farm success and failure in Mývatnssveit, northern Iceland. University of Stirling, Unpublished PhD Thesis. 473 pp.
This thesis presents a new perspective on the study of past farm success and failure; it builds on the concepts of resilience and vulnerability to construct a theoretical framework which integrates environmental, historical and ethnographical data. The basic framework establishes that the resilience or vulnerability of a social-ecological system is a function of three factors: i) the exposure of the system to external (environmental) stresses, ii) the sensitivity of the system to these stresses and iii) the ability of the human component of the system to respond to them. The research focused on the component of human capacity of response (the sum of coping and adaptive capacity) within this framework. The temporal scale of the study was the 18th century, although reference is made to earlier periods for comparison. The location of the study area was Mývatnssveit, a livestock-based farming community in northern Iceland, while the spatial scale of the study is that of individual farms in the area.
The results showed that successful farms had a higher capacity of response than failed farms, and that this was conferred by a greater availability and quality of resources, including human resources, natural resources and productive resources (those directly involved in agriculture). Human resources were assessed by records of number of servants per farm and by evidence of learning/knowledge transfer obtained via micromorphological analyses of home-field soils. Natural resources considered to be of particular importance were fish and eggs. Indicators of productive resources included tax value, land rent, livestock numbers and phosphorus content in home-fields. The latter revealed that the soil condition pre-settlement was linked to its post-settlement quality.
An analysis of present day perceptions of historical farm abandonment in the area corresponds with the conclusions reached through the data integration in placing the human factor above the environmental one in influencing success and failure. The thesis concludes by highlighting the individuality of the study farms and the historical resilience of the livestock-based farming system. Additionally, areas of potential for future research are identified.