Africa’s game changers and the catalysts of social and system innovation
CITATION: Swilling, M. 2016. Africa’s game changers and the catalysts of social and system innovation. Ecology and Society, 21(1):37, doi:10.5751/ES-08226-210137.
The original publication is available at https://www.ecologyandsociety.org
It is widely recognized that many African economies are being transformed by rapid economic growth driven largely by rising demand for the abundant natural resources scattered across the African continent. I critically review the mainstream game-changing dynamics driving this process, with special reference to a set of influential policy-oriented documents. This is followed by an analysis of less-recognized game-changing dynamics that have, in turn, been affected by the mainstream game-changing dynamics. These less-recognized game-changing dynamics include energy infrastructure challenges in a context of climate change, securing access to water, access to arable soils, slum urbanism, and food security responses. These mainstream and less-recognized game-changing dynamics provide the context for analyzing a range of African actor networks engaged in social and system innovations. I use a transdisciplinary framework to discuss these actor networks and how they construct their understanding of the game changers affecting their programs and actions. Based on a case study of the iShack initiative in Stellenbosch, South Africa, I conclude that social and system innovations will need to be driven by transformation knowledge co-produced by researchers and social actors who can actively link game-changing dynamics that operate at multiple scales with local-level innovations with potential societal impacts.