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Structuring Sustainability Science

  • Anne Jerneck
  • Lennart Olsson
  • Barry Ness
  • Stefan Anderberg
  • Matthias Baier
  • Eric Clark
  • Thomas Hickler
  • Alf Hornborg
  • Annica Kronsell
  • Eva Lövbrand
  • Johannes Persson
Publishing year: 2011
Language: English
Pages: 69-82
Publication/Series: Sustainability Science
Volume: 6
Issue: 1
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Springer

Abstract english

It is urgent in science and society to address

climate change and other sustainability challenges such as

biodiversity loss, deforestation, depletion of marine fish

stocks, global ill-health, land degradation, land use change

and water scarcity. Sustainability science (SS) is an attempt

to bridge the natural and social sciences for seeking creative

solutions to these complex challenges. In this article,

we propose a research agenda that advances the

methodological and theoretical understanding of what SS

can be, how it can be pursued and what it can contribute.

The key focus is on knowledge structuring. For that purpose,

we designed a generic research platform organised as

a three-dimensional matrix comprising three components:

core themes (scientific understanding, sustainability goals,

sustainability pathways); cross-cutting critical and problem-

solving approaches; and any combination of the sustainability

challenges above. As an example, we insert four

sustainability challenges into the matrix (biodiversity loss,

climate change, land use changes, water scarcity). Based on

the matrix with the four challenges, we discuss three issues

for advancing theory and methodology in SS: how new

synergies across natural and social sciences can be created;

how integrated theories for understanding and responding

to complex sustainability issues can be developed; and how

theories and concepts in economics, gender studies, geography,

political science and sociology can be applied in SS.

The generic research platform serves to structure and create

new knowledge in SS and is a tool for exploring any set of

sustainability challenges. The combined critical and problem-

solving approach is essential.


  • Law and Society
  • Political Science
  • Human Geography
  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
  • Transdisciplinarity
  • Critical research
  • Sustainability pathways
  • Problem-solving research
  • Sustainability challenges
  • Climate change


  • BECC
  • LUCID - Lund University Centre of Excellence for Integration of Social and Natural Dimensions of Sustainability-lup-obsolete
  • ISSN: 1862-4057
Barry Ness
E-mail: barry [dot] ness [at] lucsus [dot] lu [dot] se

Senior lecturer

LUCSUS (Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies)

+46 46 222 48 09

+46 70 259 02 57

Wrangel, 113

Wrangel, Biskopsgatan 5, Lund


Associate professor

LUCSUS (Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies)

+46 46 222 48 09

+46 70 259 02 57

Wrangel, 113

Wrangel, Biskopsgatan 5, Lund


P.O. Box 170, SE-222 70 Lund, Sweden
Phone: +46(0)46- 222 80 81
info [at] lucsus [dot] lu [dot] se