The ESRC STEPS (Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability) Centre carries out interdisciplinary global research that unites development studies with science and technology studies.
Our mission is to highlight, reveal and contribute to just and democratic pathways to sustainability that include the needs, knowledge and perspectives of poor and marginalised people.
The STEPS Centre is hosted in the UK by the Institute of Development Studies and the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex. Our main funding is from the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
From 2018-2021 the STEPS Centre and Global Consortium are focusing on four annual themes.
Faced with a series of social and environmental stresses and shocks, there are urgent calls for radical, systemic change. But, as past and present experience show, this can take many forms. What does it take to make sustainability transformations emancipatory (caring), rather than repressive (controlling)?
Uncertainties can make it hard to plan ahead. But recognising them can help to reveal new questions and choices. What kinds of uncertainty are there, why do they matter for sustainability, and what ideas, approaches and methods can help us to respond to them?
Nature is all around us, but there are many ways of seeing different kinds of ‘natures’, and many efforts to involve it in forms of control or domination. How is talk of crisis shaping nature and people’s views of it? How can colonial forms of knowledge, technology and power be challenged, and what might it mean to ‘decolonize’ the study of environmental change? What do alternatives look like, and how can we explore, nurture, imagine and live the relationships we might want for the future?
Many methods offer ways to link knowledge and action for sustainability. But there are intense pressures to close down and narrow the way knowledge is produced and used for instrumental ends. What methodological assemblages, frameworks, tools and associated ways of being could help challenge these pressures, open up to more perspectives and participation in research, and allow us to pursue more plural pathways to sustainability?
How we work
We work as part of a Global Consortium with hubs in Africa, China, Europe, Latin America, North America and South Asia. Our research projects, in many countries, engage with local problems and link them to wider concerns.
Our pathways approach links theory, research methods and practice to highlight and open up the politics of sustainability.
We focus on complex challenges like climate change, food systems, urbanisation and technology in which society and ecologies are entangled. These are varied, changing and unpredictable. They are political because people can disagree on both what the problems are, and what the solutions might be.
STEPS research explores how poor and marginalised people can be involved in identifying and diagnosing problems, as well as deciding what to do. This often involves challenging power and assumptions, and exploring many different values, perspectives and possible futures.
To do this, we use participatory methodologies which draw from diverse fields including anthropology, medicine, development studies and science & technology studies. We work with ‘transdisciplinary’ approaches which not only incldue different academic disciplines, but take seriously different forms of knowledge beyond academia, and connect research to action.
We work closely with local partners – ranging from activists to policy makers – to help shape the questions we ask. We aim to share our learning so that it can benefit others facing similar challenges, including through our Summer School and a free online course on Pathways to Sustainability.
We aim to:
- Address global challenges through interdisciplinary research projects which bring together development studies and science and technology studies
- Develop a theoretical pathways approach to understanding interactions between social, technological and environmental dynamics in diverse local conditions
- Link new theories with practical solutions by devising a suite of tools and methods to create more sustainable, socially just and favourable conditions for the poor
- Influence policy and generate new debate by engaging with diverse local and global audiences to help make change happen
- Train a new generation of junior researchers, Masters’ students, PhD students and postdoctoral fellows in the STEPS Centre’s concepts, methods and approaches.