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 | 2021-06-11
Getting the seafood sector’s big fish to swim together for sustainability
Centre researcher Jean-Baptiste Jouffray reflects on what it will take to get the world’s biggest seafood companies to transform and what science must do to help them
Research news | 2021-06-10
What to do with all the food from our oceans?
“Blue foods” have so much to offer. With life and livelihoods being the theme of World Ocean Day 2021, centre researcher Malin Jonell reflects on the role of seafood in food systems
Research news | 2021-06-09
Four signs the seafood industry is getting wiser about the ocean
“Bitter realities” remain but signs exist that seafood industry operations are starting to be more reflective of stewardship ideals
Research news | 2021-06-08
Six principles for a thriving Blue Economy
Increasing interactions between sectors like fishing, drilling and shipping risk side-lining efforts for ocean equity and sustainability. A new review provides guidelines for sustainably and more just use of the ocean
Research news | 2021-06-05
Getting to the bottom of the dark side of the seafood industry
Centre PhD student Frida Bengtsson explains the complexities of dealing with illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and why she has never felt more hopeful than now
Research news | 2021-06-04
A better understanding of how tipping points work
Why the polar ice sheets are of particular importance for the stability of the climate system as a whole