World Social Science Report 2013: Navigating pathways in the safe and just space for humanity

A framework for negotiating pathways to a safe and just sustainable future for people and planet is presented by Melissa Leach, STEPS Centre director, in a new article for the World Social Science Report 2013, launched today.

Prof. Leach and her co-authors Johan Rockström, director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) and economist Kate Raworth, combine the STEPS Centre’s work on the three ‘Ds’ agenda of direction, diversity and distribution, SRC’s work on planetary boundaries and Raworth’s ‘doughnut economics’ to offer a new framework for addressing environmental change, enduring poverty and social inequalities.

In Between social and planetary boundaries: Navigating pathways in the safe and just space for humanity, Leach, Raworth and Rockström put forward a framework which can be used to identify alternative pathways to sustainability and inform deliberation about their social and political implications.

The framework sets out the social and planetary boundaries between which humanity can thrive and explores how the many possible pathways for getting into that safe and just space can be aligned with different cultures, visions and values, and with different distributions of costs, risks, power and benefits across social groups.

The article argues the process of adjudicating between the diverse outcomes for social justice is a deeply political one in which “a new interdisciplinary science for sustainability…needs to recognize sustainability as political, requiring inclusive debate and multiple voices.”

Published by UNESCO, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the International Social Science Council (ISSC), the World Social Science Report, entitled Changing Global Environments, features articles by more than 150 leading experts from all over the world and represents the full gamut of social science subjects: anthropology, economics, development studies, geography, political science, psychology, and sociology.

The argument that underpins the 600-page volume is that people, human behaviour and societies need to be at the heart of all attempts to tackle the challenges of environmental change and phenomena studied by the natural sciences.

The Report issues a clarion call to the international scientific community, that a bolder, better, bigger and different approach to social science is needed.

It asserts that social scientists need to collaborate more effectively with colleagues from the natural, human and engineering sciences to deliver knowledge that can help address the most pressing of today’s environmental problems and sustainability challenges. And they need to do so in close collaboration with decision-makers, practitioners and the other users of their research.

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