1. The Pathways Approach

pathways approach
Different pathways to sustainability are possible. Image: STEPS

From climate change and environmental destruction to pandemics and poverty, the world is beset by complex challenges. How do we choose between the different possible ways to respond to them?

This session introduces the STEPS Centre’s ‘pathways approach’. Who you are and where you live affects how you view problems and the potential responses to them. Power not only shapes the decisions that are taken, but also how the challenges are framed, whose knowledge counts, who gets to decide and who loses or benefits. This makes sustainability a political matter, not just a technical or scientific one. It means that careful work is needed to include marginalised views, pursuing a diversity of pathways, rather than a single-track road to the future.

Lecture: The Pathways Approach

In this lecture, STEPS Director Ian Scoones gives an overview of the Pathways Approach and how it can help to draw out political debates and neglected perspectives on sustainability challenges.


After you have watched the lecture, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is the ‘pathways approach’? What are its strengths and limitations?
  2. Why, in a complex, uncertain world, does it makes more sense to think of multiple pathways to sustainability than any singular notion of “sustainability” or “development”?

Essential reading

Leach. M., Scoones, I. and Stirling, A. (2010)

Chapters 1 and 2 of Dynamic Sustainabilities. Earthscan/Routledge

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Leach, M., Scoones, I. and Stirling, A. (2010)

Chapter 3 of Dynamic Sustainabilities. Earthscan/Routledge

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Further readings

Scoones, I., Leach, M. and Newell, P. (eds) (2015) Chapter 1 of The Politics of Green Transformations. Routledge

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Scoones, I., Stirling, A., Abrol, D., Atela, J., Charli-Joseph, L., Eakin, H., Ely, A., Olsson, P. Pereira, L., Priya, R., van Zwanenberg, P. and Yang, L. (2020) Transformations to sustainability: combining structural, systemic and enabling approaches. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 42:65-75

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Scoones, I. (2016) The Politics of Sustainability and Development. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 41:293-319

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STEPS projects

You may find it interesting to explore different STEPS-related projects and see how the pathways approach has been applied:


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