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Avenues of archetype analysis: roots, achievements, and next steps in sustainability research

Klaus Eisenack, Resource Economics Group, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, Germany
Christoph Oberlack, Centre for Development and Environment (CDE), University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland; Institute of Geography, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
Diana Sietz, Th√ľnen Institute of Biodiversity, Braunschweig, Germany; Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), Member of Leibniz Association, Potsdam, Germany


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Recent years have seen a proliferation of studies that use archetype analysis to better understand and to foster transitions toward sustainability. This growing literature reveals a common methodological ground, as well as a variety of perspectives and practices. In this paper, we provide an historical overview of the roots of archetype analysis from ancient philosophy to recent sustainability science. We thereby derive core features of the archetype approach, which we frame by eight propositions. We then introduce the Special Feature, “Archetype Analysis in Sustainability Research,” which offers a consolidated understanding of the approach, a portfolio of methods, and quality criteria, as well as cutting-edge applications. By reflecting on the Special Feature’s empirical and methodological contributions, we hope that the showcased advances, exemplary applications, and conceptual clarifications will help to design future research that contributes to collaborative learning on archetypical patterns leading toward sustainability. The paper concludes with an outlook highlighting central directions for the next wave of archetype analyses.

Key words

biodiversity; building-block; case studies; classification; climate change; diagnostic approach; land-use; pattern; scenario analysis; social-ecological system; transfer of solutions; typology; vulnerability.

Copyright © 2021 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