Current sustainability challenges – including biodiversity loss, pollution and land-use change – require new ways of understanding, acting in and caring for the landscapes we live in. The concept of stewardship is increasingly used in research, policy and practice to articulate and describe responses to these challenges. However, there are multiple meanings and framings of stewardship across this wide user base that reflect different disciplinary purposes, assumptions and expertise, as well as a long history of use in both academic and lay contexts. Stewardship may therefore be considered a ‘boundary object’; that is, a conceptual tool that enables collaboration and dialogue between different actors whilst allowing for differences in use and perception. This paper seeks to map out the multiple meanings of stewardship in the literature and help researchers and practitioners to navigate the challenges and opportunities that come with using the term. We provide the first qualitative systematic review of stewardship, and identify four distinct meanings of the concept in the literature: Ethic, Motivation, Action and Outcome. We then develop a novel framework for thinking through and connecting these multiple meanings, centered around three dimensions: care, knowledge and agency. This framework is used to identify the care dimension and relational approaches as important areas for future stewardship research. In these efforts – and for scholars engaging with the stewardship concept more broadly – this paper can act as a helpful ‘centering device’, connecting practitioners, policy-makers and researchers from multiple disciplines in pursuit of sustainability.
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