Headline: New Departures—Or a Spanner in the Works? Exploring Narratives of Impact-Driven Sustainability Research

This article analyses the narratives of impact-driven transition research in the field of sustainability studies. It reconstructs patterns of narrations at a discourse level. Departing from the understanding that narrating is a fundamental mode of communication and education, this contribution is ultimately driven by the commitment to understand how narrativity can be improved in order to reach more effective rhetoric for sustainability research. The article starts by describing the dilemma sustainability researchers might find themselves in regarding their position vis-à-vis society and politics. This dilemma seems to shape the narratives researchers use for describing their work. After conceptualizing narratives on a structural level, findings from a comprehensive qualitative interview study are presented and discussed. We find that sustainability researchers can be clustered in five different types, depending on their affinity or distance to real-world sustainability processes, their propensity to either incremental reforms or transformative change and the relationship between environmental and social concerns in the context of the sustainability concept. Furthermore, we find that critical-constructive transformative research encounters challenges when narrating about its position vis-à-vis society and policy-making in the process of formulating goals and working towards them. We identified a tension between leaning stronger either towards independent, critical goal formulation or towards an engagement with actual political processes. Maintaining the ability to change roles between the process-involved and the process-observing sustainability researcher might be a promising way out for those dedicated to workings towards sustainability transitions.

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Academic Articles

Gürtler, K., & Rivera, M. (2019). New Departures—Or a Spanner in the Works? Exploring Narratives of Impact-Driven Sustainability Research. Sustainability, 11(22): 6506. doi:10.3390/su11226506.

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Narratives and Images of Sustainability