This is a recording of the session ‘Critical social science perspectives on transformations to sustainability – emerging framings and approaches’, which took place at the Sustainability Research & Innovation Congress (SRI2021) on 14th June 2021.
The recent emphasis in scientific assessments and policy frameworks on the urgent need for transformations to sustainability signals two things: recognition of the social dimensions of environmental problems; and, acknowledgement that we need innovative and visionary approaches to tackle societal challenges. The transformations discourse implies that profound changes are required in the social and economic systems, structures, values and practices that perpetuate contemporary socio-ecological problems. This suggests the need for innovation in sustainability science, challenging power structures and opening spaces to value a diversity of knowledges. This shifts emphasis to co-design and co-production with stakeholders, grounding sustainability transformations within specific contexts and enhancing potential to make transformative change relevant to local actors. There is broad agreement that social science can make a vital contribution to understanding and driving the transformations in science and society that we need. However, so far there has been only limited success in bringing social scientific knowledge to bear on efforts to address the socio-political barriers to sustainability, or, likewise, to use social science’s capacity to inform practical action, to build practices conducive to transformative change.
This session was an occasion to present and critically discuss emerging conceptual and methodological approaches in social science research for sustainability. Contributors from the Belmont Forum–NORFACE Transformations to Sustainability programme discuss conceptual and methodological challenges and reflect on what might constitute transformation in specific places, including how this might inform wider action. Questions include: What contribution(s) can social science make to our vision(s) of transformative change and sustainability? How could the social and natural sciences complement each other more effectively? How can we draw diverse knowledges and perspectives into conversations on transformation?