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Archetype Analysis in Sustainability Research


Dr. Christoph Oberlack (University of Bern, Switzerland,
Dr. Diana Sietz (Wageningen University, The Netherlands,
Prof. Dr. Klaus Eisenack (Humboldt University Berlin, Germany,

Focus and objectives

Archetype analysis is a powerful approach to reveal recurrent patterns of factors and processes that shape the sustainability of social-ecological systems. Knowledge of archetypical patterns across cases has supported a better understanding of key sustainability challenges related to land use, climate change adaptation, vulnerability, large-scale land acquisition, ecological footprints, and regional development, among others. The approach featured prominently in UNEP's (2007) Global Environmental Outlook 4, and it has been applied to a growing range of topics in the past years. Archetypical patterns can be analyzed using diverse qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods (e.g. qualitative comparative analysis, cluster analysis, meta-analysis of case studies, scenario development). The choice of methods depends on the purpose and context of the research. However, best practices of archetype analysis and promising combinations of multiple methods are currently a prime frontier of innovation.

The objectives of this Special Feature are:

  1. to take stock of examples, opportunities, pitfalls, and methods of archetype analysis in sustainability research;
  2. to push current methodological frontiers by encouraging methodological debate and cutting-edge applications;
  3. to advance understanding of key sustainability challenges and opportunities by presenting new applications of archetype analysis; and
  4. to open new avenues for a next generation of archetype analysis.

We invite papers that do one or more of the following things:

Present an empirical archetype analysis investigating specific sustainability challenges and opportunities, including but not limited to adaptation, resilience and vulnerability to global change, land use and management, land governance, biodiversity, large-scale resource systems, and social transformation.

Use the archetype approach to link local-scale case studies with regional- or global-scale assessments.

Combine multiple methods for the purpose of archetype analysis and engage in dialogue between diverse epistemologies.

Demonstrate potentials and challenges of using archetype analysis in transdisciplinary policy design and decision-making processes.

Apply archetype analysis to diagnose which governance responses are suited to address which sustainability problems in which social-ecological contexts.

Apply archetype analysis to advance middle-range theories and to gain new insights into the transferability of case-based research.

Present new findings on the role of agency, temporal dynamics, uncertainties, and scales in archetype analysis.

Intensive research workshops for high-quality papers

This Special Feature is based on two intensive research workshops. The first workshop was held at the University of Bern (Switzerland) on 2-4 May 2017; the second workshop will take place at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (Germany) in February 2018 (precise date t.b.a.). The first workshop brought together 28 early-career and leading scientists doing archetype analysis in the field of sustainability research. The upcoming workshop in Berlin will provide a unique opportunity to present draft papers and discuss them in detail. Participation in the workshop is strongly encouraged, though not mandatory, for authors wishing to contribute to the Special Feature. Every paper submitted for the Special Feature will go through the usual rigorous peer-review process of Ecology and Society.

Expressions of interest (titles, abstracts) due by 15 September 2017

The Special Feature Editors invite authors' expressions of interest in participating in the upcoming intensive research workshop and contributing to the Special Feature. Please submit a working title, an abstract of 100-200 words, and the authors' names to the editors:,,

Full papers due by 31 May 2018

The window for submission of full papers for the Special Feature will open on 1 April 2018. The deadline for submissions is 31 May 2018. Papers must be submitted online through

Please read the submission guidelines here Papers may fall into the "Research", "Insight", or "Synthesis" categories. When submitting your paper, please indicate in the cover letter that it is intended for the Special Feature on Archetype Analysis in Sustainability Research. Accepted papers will be published as soon as they are ready; the Special Feature will be listed as "in progress" until it is complete.

Open access fees for papers in this Special Feature

Articles published in Ecology and Society are available open access. The base fee for an accepted article of 5000 words is US$ 975; the fee increases if the paper is longer. There is no charge for manuscripts that are not accepted for publication and no submission charge. Full or partial waivers may be granted if all authors live and work in developing countries. Waivers may also be granted to students if they are the sole author on the paper. Waivers must be applied for and granted before submission.

For more details, see

Special Feature Editors

Dr. Christoph Oberlack (University of Bern, Switzerland,
Dr. Diana Sietz (Wageningen University, The Netherlands,
Prof. Dr. Klaus Eisenack (Humboldt University Berlin, Germany,

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087