Loving the mess: navigating diversity and conflict in social values for sustainability

Research output: Journal contributionsJournal articlesResearchpeer-review


  • Jasper O. Kenter
  • Christopher M. Raymond
  • Carena J. van Riper
  • Elaine Azzopardi
  • Michelle R. Brear
  • Fulvia Calcagni
  • Ian Christie
  • Michael Christie
  • Anne Fordham
  • Rachelle K. Gould
  • Adam P. Hejnowicz
  • Richard Gunton
  • Dave Kendal
  • Jakub Kronenberg
  • Julian R. Massenberg
  • Seb O’Connor
  • Neil Ravenscroft
  • Andrea Rawluk
  • Ivan J. Raymond
  • Jorge Rodríguez-Morales
  • Samarthia Thankappan

This paper concludes a special feature of Sustainability Science that explores a broad range of social value theoretical traditions, such as religious studies, social psychology, indigenous knowledge, economics, sociology, and philosophy. We introduce a novel transdisciplinary conceptual framework that revolves around concepts of ‘lenses’ and ‘tensions’ to help navigate value diversity. First, we consider the notion of lenses: perspectives on value and valuation along diverse dimensions that describe what values focus on, how their sociality is envisioned, and what epistemic and procedural assumptions are made. We characterise fourteen of such dimensions. This provides a foundation for exploration of seven areas of tension, between: (1) the values of individuals vs collectives; (2) values as discrete and held vs embedded and constructed; (3) value as static or changeable; (4) valuation as descriptive vs normative and transformative; (5) social vs relational values; (6) different rationalities and their relation to value integration; (7) degrees of acknowledgment of the role of power in navigating value conflicts. In doing so, we embrace the ‘mess’ of diversity, yet also provide a framework to organise this mess and support and encourage active transdisciplinary collaboration. We identify key research areas where such collaborations can be harnessed for sustainability transformation. Here it is crucial to understand how certain social value lenses are privileged over others and build capacity in decision-making for understanding and drawing on multiple value, epistemic and procedural lenses.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSustainability Science
Issue number5
Pages (from-to)1439-1461
Number of pages23
Publication statusPublished - 02.09.2019

Bibliographical note

An open call for Special Feature abstracts was publicised in February 2018 in Sustainability Science (Raymond et al. 2018 ). Forty-seven submissions were received, of which 18 were selected by the co-editors (CR, AR, CvR, DK, JK) based on criteria including academic quality from peer review of abstracts, disciplinary and geographic diversity, and gender balance. An author from each paper was invited to attend a workshop at the University of York, UK, funded by the Valuing Nature Programme. The goals of the workshop were to identify linkages across papers, facilitate deliberation on broader social values knowledge across diverse disciplines, and synthesise this new knowledge in a collective article. A diversity of perspectives were represented, including environmental science and ecology, human geography, sociology, psychology, ecological and mainstream economics, anthropology, philosophy, and business and religious studies.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, The Author(s).

    Research areas

  • Ecosystems Research - Ecosystem services, Environmental values, Epistemology, Interdisciplinarity, Knowledge brokering, Nature’s contributions to people, Relational values, Shared values