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E&S Home > Vol. 24, Iss. 3 > Art. 34 > Abstract Open Access Publishing 
Archetype analysis in sustainability research: methodological portfolio and analytical frontiers

Diana Sietz, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Member of the Leibniz Association, Potsdam, Germany; Wageningen University, Soil Physics and Land Management Group, Wageningen, The Netherlands
Ulrich Frey, Department of Energy Systems Analysis, Institute of Engineering Thermodynamics, German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Matteo Roggero, Resource Economics Group, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany
Yanqing Gong, School of Public Affairs, Zhejiang University, China
Nicholas Magliocca, University of Alabama, Department of Geography, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA
Rong Tan, School of Public Affairs, Zhejiang University, China
Peter Janssen, Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, The Hague, The Netherlands
Tomáš Václavík, Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, Palacký University Olomouc, Olomouc, Czech Republic; Department of Computational Landscape Ecology, UFZ - Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, Leipzig, Germany


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In sustainability research, archetype analysis reveals patterns of factors and processes that repeatedly shape social-ecological systems. These patterns help improve our understanding of global concerns, including vulnerability, land management, food security, and governance. During the last decade, the portfolio of methods used to investigate archetypes has been growing rapidly. However, these methods differ widely in their epistemological and normative underpinnings, data requirements, and suitability to address particular research purposes. Therefore, guidance is needed for systematically choosing methods in archetype analysis. We synthesize strengths and weaknesses of key methods used to identify archetypes. Demonstrating that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach, we discuss advantages and shortcomings of a range of methods for archetype analysis in sustainability research along gradients that capture the treatment of causality, normativity, spatial variations, and temporal dynamics. Based on this discussion, we highlight seven analytical frontiers that bear particular potential for tackling methodological limitations. As a milestone in archetype analysis, our synthesis supports researchers in reflecting on methodological implications, including opportunities and limitations related to causality, normativity, space, and time considerations in view of specific purposes and research questions. This enables innovative research designs in future archetype analysis, thereby contributing to the advancement of sustainability research and decision-making.

Key words

archetypical; global change; knowledge transfer; land system; pattern; review; socio-ecological system; up-scaling

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

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087