Sustainability through institutional failure and decline? Archetypes of productive pathways

Publikation: Beiträge in ZeitschriftenZeitschriftenaufsätzeForschungbegutachtet


Although current literature on sustainability governance and institutions is preoccupied with innovation, novelty, success,
and “best practice,” there is an emergent tendency to consider decline and failure as opportunities and leverage points to work toward
and to achieve sustainability. However, although failure, crisis, and decay have been treated extensively, the link toward their productive
potential has remained underdeveloped in the literature. Using a systems perspective, we described five archetypical pathways through
which crisis, failure, deliberate destabilization, and active management of decline may facilitate sustainability transformation through
adaptation, learning, providing windows of opportunity, and informed choices regarding stability versus change. We sought to provide
a basis for further conceptual and empirical inquiry by formulating archetypical pathways that link aspects of failure to productive
functions in the sense of sustainability. We started out by describing five archetypical pathways and their conceptual underpinnings
from a number of different literatures, including evolutionary economics, ecology, and institutional change. The pathways related to
(1) crises triggering institutional adaptations toward sustainability, (2) systematic learning from failure and breakdown, (3) the
purposeful destabilization of unsustainable institutions, (4) making a virtue of inevitable decline, and (5) active and reflective decision
making in the face of decline instead of leaving it to chance. These archetypical pathways were illustrated by a number of sustainabilityrelated
empirical case studies. In developing these archetypes, we have sought to move forward the debate on sustainability
transformation and harness the potential of hitherto overlooked institutional dynamics.
ZeitschriftEcology and Society
Anzahl der Seiten14
PublikationsstatusErschienen - 03.2019