Transformative Collaborative Governance Relations Towards Sustainability: The Case of the Stellenbosch River Collaborative

Author(s): Charon Lynette Buchner Marais
Link to CST author(s): Dr Charon Marais
Publication: Stellenbosch University
Year: 2016
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This thesis challenges and complements the transdisciplinary inquiry into the governance of commons. Using a combination of auto-ethnography and participatory action research I contribute to the call to “rethink governance in management research” (Tihanyi, Graffin & George, 2014: 1535). I approached this exploration by revealing how corporate actors engage with a variety of stakeholders and public and private partnerships and work at different levels of analysis to make and sustain shared commitments to an endangered commons. The thesis inductively shows how corporate actors broaden their understanding of what constitutes governance and when, why and especially how they progressively and cooperatively reclaim governance responsibility and authority beyond the existing corporate boundary and jurisdiction. Elinor Ostrom received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2012 for her reinterpretation of Stakeholder Theory to emphasise the multiplicity, variety and legitimacy of stakeholder interests in contexts where attempts at and terms of collaborative investments are held back by disagreements, ambiguity, and complexity. While Ostrom’s work brings the socio-economic ecosystem to the foreground of governance, it underspecifies how corporate actors (re)engage with natural objects within the commons they are working to protect and preserve, and how these engagements update their own understanding and practice of corporate governance. My four-year participatory action research facilitated, documented and reflected on the shifting contributions of corporate actors in the collaborative emergence of the Stellenbosch River Collaborative (SRC) in the Eerste River Catchment (ERC) in South Africa. I inductively develop a new theory on the transition of corporate actors from transactional to transformative governance by showing how they gradually redefined their relationship with a natural object within the socio-economic ecosystem they were embedded in and interdependent with (the Eerste River). By developing, defining and illustrating three sequential stages of engagement by corporate actors with the river, and explaining how their conceptualization of what constitutes governance shifts from stage to stage, I “broaden the scope of future work on governance” (Tihanyi et al., 2014: 1541), to more explicitly include the role of place in general and natural objects in particular. The thesis also proposes a novel methodological approach to carrying out transdisciplinary inquiries of socio-economic eco-systems. I furthermore explain how methods can be combined, adjusted and continuously updated to track the framing and resolution of wicked problems. In so doing, the thesis builds and broadens the methodological toolkit suitable for studying wicked problems in other social-economic systems (SES). The induced concepts additionally yield important lessons for corporate actors, especially those seeking to become more proactively in the commons they inhabit, by demonstrating how they can deliberately transcend an exploitative frame and move towards a collaborative one. It furthermore explains how corporate actors come to include – rather than exclude – natural objects within their socio-economic ecosystems in their corporate governance mandates and practices. Overall, this thesis advocate for new possibilities for corporate governance. My inductive theory building acknowledges the centrality of natural objects in the governance of commons and reveals the interactive role of place by gradually changing who and how works to protect and preserve the commons.