Human Social System

The flow and use of critical resources is regulated by the social system, the set of general social structures that guide much of human behavior. The social system is composed of three subsystems: social institutions, social cycles, and social order.

Taken together, social institutions, combined with the flow of critical resources, create the human ecosystem. Each of these elements substantially influences the others. For example, changes in the flow of energy (such as an embargo and resultant rationing) may alter hierarchies of power (those with fuel get more) and norms for behavior (such as informal sanctions against wasting fuel).

Adaptation is continuous in human ecosystems (Bennett 1976); social institutions adapt to changes in resource flows, and in turn, alter such flows. The result is a perpetually dynamic system. For example, political institutions may adapt to the increased demands on forest resources by altering decision-making processes (such as increased public participation) and the resource flow (as when the legal system issues injunctions against timber cutting).

Adaptation is used here in a nonvalued sense; what is adaptive (or advantageous) for one institution or social group may be maladaptive (or harmful) for another (Bennett 1976, 1993).

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