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Conceptualizing, Observing, and Influencing Social–Ecological Transitions

Marina Fischer-Kowalski, Institute of Social Ecology, Alpen Adria University
Jan Rotmans, DRIFT (Drift Research Institute for Transitions) Erasmus University, Rotterdam, The Netherlands


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This article creates a meeting ground between two distinct and fairly elaborate research traditions dealing with social “transitions”: the Dutch societal transitions management approach, and the Viennese sociometabolic transitions approach. Sharing a similar understanding of sustainability transitions—namely as major transformational changes of system characteristics—and a background epistemology of complex systems, autopoeisis, and evolutionary mechanisms, they address the subject from different angles: one approach asks how transformative changes happen and what they look like, and the other approach tries answer the question of how to bring them about. The Viennese approach is almost exclusively analytical and deals with a macro (“landscape”) level of human history with a time scale of decades to centuries; the Dutch approach is based on intervention experiences and deals with a shorter time frame (decades) of micro–meso–macro levels of industrial societies. From both their respective angles, they contribute to some of the key questions of sustainability research, namely: how can a transformative change toward sustainability be distinguished from other types of social change? By which mechanisms can obstacles, path dependencies, and adverse interests be overcome? And what are the key persistent problems that call for such a transition?

Key words

social metabolism; sociometabolic regimes; transition management

Copyright © 2009 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