Methodological Pluralism in Sustainability Research: A Critical-Reflexive Approach
20 Pages Posted: 14 Nov 2012 Last revised: 13 Apr 2014
Date Written: November 14, 2012
Investigating and solving complex sustainability issues requires a reconsideration of the way scientific knowledge is produced and the way it interacts with policy-making and the broader social environment. This engages both the intellectual and the social organization of research. In particular, we focus on the role of problem framing and of the socio-normative background of research (assumptions, values, norms, institutional and technological context) in shaping scientific methodology.
The prevalent explanatory frameworks in sustainability research are largely guided by descriptive-analytical goals and pay relatively little attention to the transformational dimension of science (Wiek et al. 2012). Integrating this transformational level into scientific practice can potentially have a normative benefit (by way of a critical deliberation on what values and aims should guide research), but also an epistemic benefit (insofar as the implicit normative commitments and social constraints guiding research are brought into the open, and thus their methodological contributions are clarified). Through a critical-reflexive approach, based on explicit acknowledgement and critical deliberation on the values, assumptions and social context of scientific practice, sustainability research can be carried out on a more solid epistemological and normative foundation. We illustrate the normative and epistemic potential of this approach by focusing on environmental valuation methods and the assumptions and values underlying them.
Keywords: sustainability, social-ecological systems, epistemic values, theoretical assumptions, reflexivity, methodological pluralism
JEL Classification: Q51, Q57, A13, B41
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation