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

Andra-Ioana Horcea-Milcu, Ecosystems and Environment Research Program, Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland; Helsinki Institute for Sustainability Science (HELSUS), University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland; Department of Economics and Management, Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry Sciences, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
Berta Martín-López, Faculty of Sustainability, Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Lüneburg, Germany
David P. M. Lam, Faculty of Sustainability, Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Lüneburg, Germany
Daniel J. Lang, Faculty of Sustainability, Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Lüneburg, Germany

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-11332-250113

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Abstract

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.

Key words

archetypes; bridging concepts; cluster; interface; knowledge; sustainability transformation research; transdisciplinary

Copyright © 2020 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