Research Topic

Discussing Structural, Systemic and Enabling Approaches to Socio-Environmental Transformations: Stimulating an Interdisciplinary and Plural Debate within the Social Sciences

About this Research Topic

In recent decades, the social sciences have engaged more deeply with the evolving interconnection and interdependence between the social and the natural world. Once the privileged domain of ecological and Earth sciences, the observation of how human processes alter and shape the biophysical and human environment has become a key topic within social science circles. Similarly, social science scholars have brought novel concerns to the table about the changes that societies are undertaking in order to respond to or prevent such human-induced changes in the environment. The very idea of ‘Nature’, and of a separation between Humanity and Nature, has become a key topic of debate within social science practice.

While this has fostered a creative expansion of the analytical toolboxes employed to tackle socio-environmental transformations with novel concepts and methods, it has been accompanied by a fragmentation of the topic into an array of different (and sometimes conflicting) approaches, each imbued with distinct conceptions of change and more or less explicit value-commitments. While some scholars have emphasized that overcoming the global crises we are faced with requires structural and radical changes in the forms of production and socio-political structures, others have focused on critically observing the processes and conditions driving change at a systemic level. Others still have favored a more hands-on approach, discussing and actively fostering cognitive, cultural or agential enablers of change, while a fourth and more semiotic perspective has examined socio-historical changes within conceptions and descriptions of change and transformations and how these challenge or reproduce established forms of societal organization.

With few -albeit notable- exceptions, each of these approaches has been pursued differently and in relatively self-enclosed epistemic communities, often reflecting enduring disciplinary or theoretical divides, and preventing a reflexive debate on the interactions and possible synergies between each of these perspectives on socio-environmental transformations. Moreover, the structural differences between disciplines, research institutions, and between the Global North and the Global South, tend to grant privileged visibility to, certain already established, perspectives, visions and methods; while others remain relatively invisible, despite their potential to provide a fresh view on the interdependence and reciprocal changes induced by society on the environment and vice versa.

In order to overcome these traditional divisions and foster a more plural, creative and reflexive debate, this Research Topic invites scholars and research practitioners from different regions and epistemic communities to engage with the different approaches to and dimensions of socio-environmental transformations, as well as their possible interaction and integration. We will particularly welcome contributions from emerging and/or established researchers from groups often excluded from these circles, or from the Global South.

Papers might address, but are not restricted to, the following topics:

- Theoretical or conceptual reflections on different conceptions of and analytical approximations to socio-environmental transformations
- Epistemological or methodological contributions on the study or practice of socio-environmental transformations
- Qualitative or quantitative studies discussing theoretical and pragmatic insights that may be gathered from particular experiences or case studies of socio-environmental transformations


Keywords: Transformation, global change, interdisciplinary, environment, scientific narratives


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.

In recent decades, the social sciences have engaged more deeply with the evolving interconnection and interdependence between the social and the natural world. Once the privileged domain of ecological and Earth sciences, the observation of how human processes alter and shape the biophysical and human environment has become a key topic within social science circles. Similarly, social science scholars have brought novel concerns to the table about the changes that societies are undertaking in order to respond to or prevent such human-induced changes in the environment. The very idea of ‘Nature’, and of a separation between Humanity and Nature, has become a key topic of debate within social science practice.

While this has fostered a creative expansion of the analytical toolboxes employed to tackle socio-environmental transformations with novel concepts and methods, it has been accompanied by a fragmentation of the topic into an array of different (and sometimes conflicting) approaches, each imbued with distinct conceptions of change and more or less explicit value-commitments. While some scholars have emphasized that overcoming the global crises we are faced with requires structural and radical changes in the forms of production and socio-political structures, others have focused on critically observing the processes and conditions driving change at a systemic level. Others still have favored a more hands-on approach, discussing and actively fostering cognitive, cultural or agential enablers of change, while a fourth and more semiotic perspective has examined socio-historical changes within conceptions and descriptions of change and transformations and how these challenge or reproduce established forms of societal organization.

With few -albeit notable- exceptions, each of these approaches has been pursued differently and in relatively self-enclosed epistemic communities, often reflecting enduring disciplinary or theoretical divides, and preventing a reflexive debate on the interactions and possible synergies between each of these perspectives on socio-environmental transformations. Moreover, the structural differences between disciplines, research institutions, and between the Global North and the Global South, tend to grant privileged visibility to, certain already established, perspectives, visions and methods; while others remain relatively invisible, despite their potential to provide a fresh view on the interdependence and reciprocal changes induced by society on the environment and vice versa.

In order to overcome these traditional divisions and foster a more plural, creative and reflexive debate, this Research Topic invites scholars and research practitioners from different regions and epistemic communities to engage with the different approaches to and dimensions of socio-environmental transformations, as well as their possible interaction and integration. We will particularly welcome contributions from emerging and/or established researchers from groups often excluded from these circles, or from the Global South.

Papers might address, but are not restricted to, the following topics:

- Theoretical or conceptual reflections on different conceptions of and analytical approximations to socio-environmental transformations
- Epistemological or methodological contributions on the study or practice of socio-environmental transformations
- Qualitative or quantitative studies discussing theoretical and pragmatic insights that may be gathered from particular experiences or case studies of socio-environmental transformations


Keywords: Transformation, global change, interdisciplinary, environment, scientific narratives


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

15 January 2021 Abstract
15 June 2021 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

15 January 2021 Abstract
15 June 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

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

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