Societal transformation in response to global environmental change: a review of emerging concepts


Giuseppe Feola

Journal or Book Title: AMBIO

Keywords: Environmental change; Transformation; Sustainability; Social science


The study of societal transformation in response to environmental change has become established, yet little consensus exists regarding the conceptual basis of transformation. This paper aims to provide structure to the dialog on transformation, and to reflect on the challenges of social research in this area. Concepts of transformation are identified through a literature review, and examined using four analytical criteria. It is found that the term ‘transformation’ is frequently used merely as a metaphor. When transformation is not used as a metaphor, eight concepts are most frequently employed. They differ with respect to (i) system conceptualization, (ii) notions of social consciousness (deliberate/emergent), and (iii) outcome (prescriptive/descriptive). Problem-based research tends to adopt concepts of deliberate transformation with prescriptive outcome, while concepts of emergent transformation with no prescriptive outcome tend to inform descriptive-analytical research. Dialog around the complementarities of different concepts and their empirical testing are priorities for future research.

URL: Journal

URL: Open access

DOI: 10.1007/s13280-014-0582-z

Type of Publication: Journal Article