Research pathways to foster transformation: linking sustainability science and social-ecological systems research

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Although sustainability science and social-ecological systems research pursue very similar goals, i.e., generate problem- and solution-oriented knowledge to foster sustainability transformation, they partly apply different research approaches and use different key concepts. Our aim is to identify archetypes of sustainability transformation research derived for sustainability science and social-ecological systems research that make knowledge from the two research pathways more accessible to each other in order to foster transformation. To reach this goal, we applied a mixed method approach toward an archetype analysis, based on semantic networks and clusters. Our findings point out that the fields of sustainability science and social-ecological systems research are rather coherent and not so distinct as may be expected, especially in terms of normative goals and addressed topics. Our analysis inductively reveals four archetypes of sustainability transformation research, with thematic structures clustered around (1) environmental change and ecosystem services; (2) resilience and vulnerability; (3) knowledge production for sustainability; and (4) governance for sustainability. We describe how these archetypes interact and facilitate dialogue between the fields. When considering the two transformation research pathways from the perspective of the research mode of transdisciplinary research, their discourses appear more disconnected. To fill this gap, we uncover key concepts that can strengthen the connection of the two fields to inform and foster sustainability transformations. These concepts involve engaging with nonacademic actors and seeking impact in policy.
Original languageEnglish
Article number13
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number1
Number of pages29
Publication statusPublished - 03.2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the Volkswagen Stiftung and the Niedersächsischen Ministeriums für Wissenschaft und Kultur funded project “Leverage Points for Sustainable Transformations: Institutions, People and Knowledge*#8221; [Grant Number A112269]. The authors are grateful to two anonymous reviewers who greatly improved the manuscript with their observations.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 by the author(s).