Alternative Sustainabilities

Between local contexts and global measures

The working group starts from the recognition that the contemporary global “mega discourse” on sustainability, which includes the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), is largely driven by “Western” and “Northern” perspectives, narratives, ideas and standards. Perspectives from the Global South are barely included, but sustainability as a global concern requires the incorporation of a broader understanding of what modern societies essentially are, how they are envisaged, and how human-nature relations are understood, practiced, reflected in philosophies and policies in societies worldwide. Scientific knowledge that may serve as the basis for policy actions and decisions must be aware of and adequately account for epistemic and ontological differences and similarities between Western and local or indigenous knowledge.

The working group focusses on the field of tension between diverging sustainability theories, concepts of normative sustainability, the SDG approach, and the applicability of different sustainability concepts and approaches at different scales. “Scales” refer to hierarchies or relations between human-made spaces and are used conceptually in various disciplines, such as political geography and anthropology. For an interdisciplinary scientific examination of the “global” sustainability discourse in interaction with local, regional and national perspectives, influences and impacts, they have a high analytical potential. Discussions of sustainability cases from different disciplines along concepts of scales will be useful for the further development of interdisciplinary scientific methods for sustainability science and engage and benefit practitioners.

Some of our research questions are:

  • How do local and global conceptions and actions on sustainability relate to each other, especially when the local conceptions do not fall into the accepted categories of economic, ecological and social dimensions of sustainability? How can this be supported by interdisciplinary social science approaches?
  • How do different “sustainability cultures” resonate with each other? (This could include the identification of differences, relations and commonalities across places.)
  • Which concepts, ideas and actions have already been “scaled up” and in what ways? Does the knowledge gained translate into suitable actions, and if not, why?
  • What can we learn from the discussions around up- and down-scaling for policy processes around IPBES and IPCC? What kind of knowledge is created with which kind of participation and legitimacy, and what impacts can policies have with which kind of participation and knowledge basis?
  • How can a global just transition look like where “sustainability gains” in some regions are leading to “sustainability loss” elsewhere (the ethical dimension of telecoupling)?

In the coming two years, we will organize workshops and meetings.

Working Group Spokesperson

Dr. Sandra Gilgan

University of Bonn, Bonn Alliance for Sustainability Research — Cultural Studies —

E-mail contact

Prof. Dr. Kristina Großmann

University of Bonn, Institute for Oriental and Asian Studies — Human-Environmental Relationships — Sustainability — Islam — Categories of differentiation —

E-mail contact
Working Group Members