Research Topic

The Role of the Individual in the Great Transformation Toward Sustainability

About this Research Topic

Multiple socio-ecological crises require a great transformation towards sustainability. Environmental psychology and education have traditionally approached sustainability-related learning and behavior on an individual level. Various theories from social and behavioral psychology and the learning sciences have been applied to understand the awareness, motivational, and normative aspects underlying the ecologically and socially responsible use of resources. Hence, understanding the effects of intra-individual factors on according behavior under different conditions has considerably increased over time.

Meanwhile, indicators of the collective impact of humans’ behavior on the earth systems (e.g. CO2 emissions accelerating climate change) and social conditions (e.g. poverty, hunger) remain at unsustainable levels. In the face of the increasing urgency of sustainability-related transformations, we diagnose limited usefulness of psychological and educational insights to procure the necessary shift of collective behaviors in the face of strong structural constraints in the real world.

Instead of exclusively focusing on intra-individual predictors of behavior (i.e. behavior change), this Frontiers' Research Topic looks into new approaches where the interplay between individual agency and the structural conditions limiting this agency are pulled into the spotlight. Such a comprehensive perspective not only promises increased ecological validity of psychological and educational research, but also more fruitful insights into guiding effective real-world transformation processes towards sustainability.

We welcome contributions that have psychological or educational research in an interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary research setting with a transformational agenda. We invite conceptual as well as empirical papers. Topics of contributions include, but are not limited to:
• The limits / importance of an theoretical approach focusing primarily on private sphere behavioral change in the context of societal transformation towards sustainability
• Approaches allowing to build a bridge between psychological processes and social structure, e.g. focusing on the interplay between individual or collective agency and physical/economic/politic structure (e.g. social practice theory, behavioral economics or behavioral governance approaches)
• Ethical considerations of interventionist research and policy approaches such as nudging or behavior change programming carried out to promote sustainability
• Approaches allowing to reflect the impact of power structures/ ideological beliefs on the interplay between psychological processes and social structure
• Approaches having a focus on the possibility of social change that is the understanding of social movements/ political protest / built-up of political pressure/ political psychology as a means of transforming society
• Guiding sustainable consumption within ecological and social boundaries (social justice and cohesion, consumption corridors)


Keywords: sustainable transformation processes, sustainable behavior, individual agency, socio-technical context, collective action, political engagement, social justice


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Multiple socio-ecological crises require a great transformation towards sustainability. Environmental psychology and education have traditionally approached sustainability-related learning and behavior on an individual level. Various theories from social and behavioral psychology and the learning sciences have been applied to understand the awareness, motivational, and normative aspects underlying the ecologically and socially responsible use of resources. Hence, understanding the effects of intra-individual factors on according behavior under different conditions has considerably increased over time.

Meanwhile, indicators of the collective impact of humans’ behavior on the earth systems (e.g. CO2 emissions accelerating climate change) and social conditions (e.g. poverty, hunger) remain at unsustainable levels. In the face of the increasing urgency of sustainability-related transformations, we diagnose limited usefulness of psychological and educational insights to procure the necessary shift of collective behaviors in the face of strong structural constraints in the real world.

Instead of exclusively focusing on intra-individual predictors of behavior (i.e. behavior change), this Frontiers' Research Topic looks into new approaches where the interplay between individual agency and the structural conditions limiting this agency are pulled into the spotlight. Such a comprehensive perspective not only promises increased ecological validity of psychological and educational research, but also more fruitful insights into guiding effective real-world transformation processes towards sustainability.

We welcome contributions that have psychological or educational research in an interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary research setting with a transformational agenda. We invite conceptual as well as empirical papers. Topics of contributions include, but are not limited to:
• The limits / importance of an theoretical approach focusing primarily on private sphere behavioral change in the context of societal transformation towards sustainability
• Approaches allowing to build a bridge between psychological processes and social structure, e.g. focusing on the interplay between individual or collective agency and physical/economic/politic structure (e.g. social practice theory, behavioral economics or behavioral governance approaches)
• Ethical considerations of interventionist research and policy approaches such as nudging or behavior change programming carried out to promote sustainability
• Approaches allowing to reflect the impact of power structures/ ideological beliefs on the interplay between psychological processes and social structure
• Approaches having a focus on the possibility of social change that is the understanding of social movements/ political protest / built-up of political pressure/ political psychology as a means of transforming society
• Guiding sustainable consumption within ecological and social boundaries (social justice and cohesion, consumption corridors)


Keywords: sustainable transformation processes, sustainable behavior, individual agency, socio-technical context, collective action, political engagement, social justice


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

30 June 2020 Abstract
30 October 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

30 June 2020 Abstract
30 October 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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