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Colby Clark

My dissertation, The Primacy of Openness in Ecological Complexity Theory, is being written under the co-supervision of Ted Schatzki (Philosophy) and Tony Stallins (Geography). My research addresses topics in the areas of environmental philosophy and environmental ethics. In general, I am interested in how different conceptual frameworks and modeling strategies aid in the development of conservation, restoration, and sustainability practices and policies. Defined more narrowly, I defend a view that emphasizes the importance of geographical considerations within these discussions.

The environmental philosophy part of my research explores matters of complexity. Ecological complexity theory studies ontological and epistemological aspects of complex causal dynamics. For my specific research, I am interested in how the different causal principles posited by ecological complexity theory (which includes emergence, openness, contingency, and history) are operationalized within the resilience concept. I principally study advances in the subarea of spatial resilience theory that incorporate geographical details to explain self-organizing feedbacks. Shifting to this perspective, I argue, requires a shift in how the different causal principles are understood and utilized in explanations.

By first gaining a better understanding of the conceptual frameworks used to explain ecosystem resilience, I aim to provide a practical basis for conservation and restoration ethics. My approach mirrors Holmes Rolston III’s insofar as I attempt to link ecological and ethical theories. One such example is Rolston III’s concept of systemic value, which functions as an alternative to intrinsic and instrumental values that better resonates with the systems-based perspective held by conservationists and restorationists. In my most recent work, I argue for an expanded interpretation of systemic value that extends to the geographical features of a landscape due to their role in sustaining ecosystem resilience.