Self-governance lessons from Bali and Stephen Lansing

This chapter of the book Alternative Approaches to Development edited by Michele Cangiani presents the case study of the Balinese subak system for irrigation and rice cultivation, as it has been studied and explained mainly by anthropologist Stephen J. Lansing. Lansing’s interdisciplinary work (complexity theory and socio-cultural anthropology) shows how sustainability as well as social harmony in Bali are emergent properties of a complex network of cooperation. «Networks can solve problems» Lansing states. Recognizing this complexity in real-world situations is of extreme importance and usefulness for an authentic sustainable development. Lansing’s research team helped Indonesian development planners recognizing the role of the traditional institutions at work in Bali in managing complexity in a more sustainable, equal, and productive way then the “modernized” way (green revolution) they were pursuing. This was accomplished also by means of an agent-based model, a computer simulation of the network built by Lansing’s collaborator, system ecologist James Kremer. The thick ethnographic research which informed the model shows also that the level of organization of the Balinese social-ecological system is accomplished «through the cultural and at the same time personal involvement of individuals» as Cangiani writes in the preface of the present book. The aim of this chapter is also to call attention on the viability of the systems approach of self-organization for sustainable problem solving. As Cangiani puts it down «The reproduction in a modern form of such wisdom and harmony, to be achieved by freely interacting individuals, thus re-empowered of the control of their life and creativity, is a highly risky bet. Without betting, however, the loss is certain».

You can find the full text at academia edu or at


About miromarchi

PhD in Anthropology, consultant at GraphAware. Interested in graphs, ethnography, anthropology, network analysis, graph databases, network visualization, complexity, cooperation, collective action, emergence of self-organization, commons, sustainability, open source, communities of practice.
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