Methods of Sustainability Research in the Social Sciences

Frances Fahy, Henrike Rau
SAGE, 21 .. 2013 - 232 ˹
Sustainability is a key concept used by social scientists interested in interactions between human society and the environment. This text offers a systematic and critical review of established and emerging methodological approaches, as well as tools for the integrated investigation of sustainability questions. Recognising the significance of scale for sustainability efforts and measurement, its scope ranges from the local to the global. Divided into five sections:

  • Part I: examines the key challenges inherent to social scientific sustainability research, focusing in particular on methodological questions that arise from recent efforts towards greater disciplinary integration.
  • Part II: discusses methodologies aimed at the investigation of attitudes and behaviour observable at the local level - from families and households to individual organisations within communities.
  • Part III: focuses on comparative sustainability research across different levels of socio-political organisation - from cities and regions to nation-states.
  • Part IV: covers recent developments which recognise the significance of time for sustainability research and which offer innovative methodological approaches that focus on life events and long-term outcome.
  • Part V: offers a critical assessment of current and future trends in social-scientific sustainability researc.

Bringing together contributions from international social scientists, this is the resource for academics and practitioners interested in sustainability research. It will be a core teaching text for undergraduate and postgraduate courses in sustainability and sustainable development, geography, environmental sociology and the environmental sciences.


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1 Sustainability Research in the Social Sciences Concepts Methodologies and the Challenge of Interdisciplinarity
Experiences of Unsustainability among Individuals Households and Communities
Researching green lifestyles a survey approach
Focus group approaches
Towards a methodology of dialogic research
PART III Comparative Research on the Sustainability Performance of Cities Regions and Nationstates
5 Sustainable Development of What? Contesting global development concepts and measures
Material and energy flow analysis human appropriation of net primary production and the ecological footprint
Environmental noise and the city
PART IVTime in Focus
Biographical research and sustainability
9 Time and Sustainability
PART V Current Developments and Future Trends
Reflections on current challenges and future developments

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Dr Frances Fahy is the Head of Geography and Senior Lecturer in National University of Ireland, Galway. Dr Fahy specialises in sustainable consumption, environmental governance and planning at all scales. She has published widely and led a number of research projects exploring sustainable consumption, environmental governance, innovative methods for public participation in planning and the development of collaborative planning tools including community derived indicators and community mapping. Her publications include two edited volumes Methods of Sustainability Research in the Social Sciences (with Prof Henrike Rau, Sage, 2013) and Challenging Consumption (with Prof Anna Davies and Prof Henrike Rau, Routledge, 2014) and peer reviewed articles in Global Environmental Change, Area, Nature and Culture, and Journal of Consumer Policy.

Frances is the Past President of the Geographical Society of Ireland (2012-2014). She is a past Chair of the Planning and Environment Research Group (PERG) of the Royal Geographical Society (2007-2012). Frances was the recipient of the 2013-14 Fulbright Scholar Award and during her research leave in the US she explored the experiences of academics involved in policy-relevant research in the field of sustainability.

Dr Henrike Rau is a lecturer in Political Science and Sociology at the National University of Ireland, Galway.