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Archetype analysis in sustainability research: meanings, motivations, and evidence-based policy making

Christoph Oberlack, Institute of Geography, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland; Centre for Development and Environment (CDE), University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
Diana Sietz, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Member of the Leibniz Association, P.O. Box 60 12 03, D-14412 Potsdam, Germany; Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands
Elisabeth Bürgi Bonanomi, Centre for Development and Environment (CDE), University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
Ariane de Bremond, Global Land Programme; Centre for Development and Environment (CDE), University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland; Geographical Sciences Department, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland, USA
Jampel Dell'Angelo, Department of Environmental Policy Analysis, Institute for Environmental Studies, VU University Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Klaus Eisenack, Resource Economics Group, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, Germany
Erle C Ellis, Department of Geography and Environmental Systems, University of Maryland, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Graham Epstein, Environmental Change and Governance Group, School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
Markus Giger, Centre for Development and Environment (CDE), University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
Andreas Heinimann, Centre for Development and Environment (CDE), University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland; Institute of Geography, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
Christian Kimmich, Department of Environmental Studies, Masaryk University, Brno, Czechia
Marcel TJ Kok, PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, The Hague, The Netherlands
David Manuel-Navarrete, School of Sustainability, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, USA
Peter Messerli, Centre for Development and Environment (CDE), University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland; Institute of Geography, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
Patrick Meyfroidt, Georges Lemaître Center for Earth and Climate Research, Earth and Life Institute, UCLouvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium; F.R.S.-FNRS, Brussels, Belgium
Tomáš Václavík, Palacký University Olomouc, Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, Olomouc, Czechia; UFZ - Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, Department of Computational Landscape Ecology, Leipzig, Germany
Sergio Villamayor-Tomas, Institute of Environmental Science and Technology (ICTA), Autonomous University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-10747-240226

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Abstract

Archetypes are increasingly used as a methodological approach to understand recurrent patterns in variables and processes that shape the sustainability of social-ecological systems. The rapid growth and diversification of archetype analyses has generated variations, inconsistencies, and confusion about the meanings, potential, and limitations of archetypes. Based on a systematic review, a survey, and a workshop series, we provide a consolidated perspective on the core features and diverse meanings of archetype analysis in sustainability research, the motivations behind it, and its policy relevance. We identify three core features of archetype analysis: recurrent patterns, multiple models, and intermediate abstraction. Two gradients help to apprehend the variety of meanings of archetype analysis that sustainability researchers have developed: (1) understanding archetypes as building blocks or as case typologies and (2) using archetypes for pattern recognition, diagnosis, or scenario development. We demonstrate how archetype analysis has been used to synthesize results from case studies, bridge the gap between global narratives and local realities, foster methodological interplay, and transfer knowledge about sustainability strategies across cases. We also critically examine the potential and limitations of archetype analysis in supporting evidence-based policy making through context-sensitive generalizations with case-level empirical validity. Finally, we identify future priorities, with a view to leveraging the full potential of archetype analysis for supporting sustainable development.

Key words

archetype; land systems; social-ecological system; sustainability; vulnerability

Copyright © 2019 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087