Sustainability Science Research
Affiliates of this Institute are working collaboratively, across a wide range of scientific disciplines, to assess how a more robust sustainability paradigm - one which can fully incorporate and contribute to interdisciplinary sustainability science - can be constructed; whether it is feasible, and if so, what conceptual and methodological avenues it should pursue.
The methodologies research programme of the Institute attempts to contribute and progress the development of sustainability science by undertaking three related and important tasks. First, it makes a much needed connection between the progress of sustainability science and a reconceptualisation and critical integration with concepts of place and space. Here, and second, drawing on human ecology literatures, arguably we need to see new ‘place-making’ as a constituent and contingent expression of three interrelated, interdependent and relational spheres: economy, ecology and community. Third, these conceptualisations hold important implications for the academy and practice of sustainability planning - a planning which needs methodologically to practice a new spatial imagination. This ‘imagination’ is exemplified by revised and more multi-dimensional framings of city-regions and urban-rural relations. The conceptualisation of the city region as a spatially flexible and hierarchical spatial organising framework is arguably a good place to begin framing these applications.
Dealing with sustainable spaces and places becomes more of a priority as part of a broader movement towards sustainability science, not least because it is becoming much clearer that any effective adaptations to environmental and resource vulnerabilities will need to be inherently ‘place based’. That is they will have to accommodate the particular heterogeneity and diversity of place. This is so even if those places are both relational and bounded entities and contain a range of diverse communities of place and of interest. Hence, it would seem that we need to recognise both the fluidity and relationality of place and space on the one hand, at the same time as also recognising that sustainable ‘transitions’ in themselves will indeed need to be rooted in real spaces and real time frames if they are to indeed become transitions.
It is clear that we are becoming far more experienced in different forms and processes of methodological pluralism. Mixed-methods, more engagement-related research processes, innovative ways of combining stakeholders and experts at different governance scales and locations: these are all essentials in progressing sustainability science, its planning and its unfolding ontology. In this sense, one important implication of the centrality the Institute places on locating place-based and place- making processes at the centre of sustainability science - as an essential ‘meeting place’ for the active spheres of economy, community and ecology - is also the scholarly ‘meeting place’ for sustainability science. Indeed place becomes in itself a methodological and epistemological meeting place- a new ‘laboratory’- for sustainability scientists, planners and the wider community to understand the inter-dependences, the contingencies and the framings of new solutions to the threats and vulnerabilities we face.