A relational turn for sustainability science? Relational thinking, leverage points and transformations
In sustainability science, revising the paradigms that separate humans from nature is considered a powerful ‘leverage point’ in pursuit of transformations. The coupled social-ecological and human-environment systems perspectives at the heart of sustainability science have, in many ways, enhanced recognition across academic, civil, policy and business spheres that humans and nature are inextricably connected.
However, in retaining substantialist assumptions where ‘social’ and ‘ecological’ refer to different classes of entity that interact, coupled systems perspectives insist on the inextricability of humans and nature in theory, while requiring researchers to extricate them in practice – thus inadvertently reproducing the separation they seek to repair.
Consequently, sustainability researchers are increasingly drawing on scholarship from the ‘relational turn’ in the humanities and the social sciences to propose a paradigm shift for sustainability science: away from focusing on interactions between entities, towards emphasizing continually unfolding processes and relations. Yet there remains widespread uncertainty about the origins, promises and challenges of using relational approaches. In this paper, we identify four themes in relational thinking – continually unfolding processes; embodied experience; reconstructing language and concepts; and ethics/practices of care – and highlight the ways in which these are being drawn on in sustainability science.
We conclude by critically discussing how relational approaches might contribute to (i) a paradigm shift in sustainability science, and (ii) transformations towards sustainability. Relational approaches foster more dynamic, holistic accounts of human-nature connectedness; more situated and diverse knowledges for decision-making; and new domains and methods of intervention that nurture relationships in place and practice.
Research news | 2022-05-22
Celebrating International day for biodiversity
May 22 is the International Day for Biodiversity and we celebrate it by highlighting our research on the topic
Research news | 2022-05-20
Relaunch of hub on environment, climate and security
Swedish government launches second phase of the Stockholm Hub on Environment, Climate and Security, building knowledge on how climate and environmental change lead to human insecurities
Research news | 2022-05-16
The effects of less, but better meat production
Study captures the real-world experiences and effects of a farm’s journey towards sustainability
Research news | 2022-05-14
Our engagements during Stockholm +50
When and where to find us during the international environmental meeting in Stockholm 2-3 June
Research news | 2022-05-10
Centre joins SEK 45 million landscape programme
LAND-PATHS programme will engage with ordinary citizens to develop more sustainable and integrated decision-making processes
Research news | 2022-05-09
Three ways games can break sustainability deadlocks
Played by the right people, strategy games can break free from established norms and support more transparent democratic dialogues