Sustainability Science

, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 253–267 | Cite as

Identification and analysis of the highly cited knowledge base of sustainability science

Original Article


We investigated the interdisciplinary ‘pillars’ of scientific knowledge on which the emerging field of sustainability science is founded, using a bibliometric approach and data from the Web of Science database. To find this scientific basis, we first located publications that represent a relevant part of sustainability science and then extracted the set of best cited publications, which we called the highly cited knowledge base (HCKB). To find the research orientation in this set, we inspected the occurrence of fields and contrasted this with the occurrence of fields in other publication sets relevant to sustainability science. We also created a network of co-cited HCKB publications using the seed set citations, extracted communities or clusters in this network and visualised the result. Additionally, we inspected the most cited publications in these HCKB clusters. We found that themes related to the three pillars of sustainable development (environment, economy and sociology) are all present in the HCKB, although social science (not including economics) is less visible. Finally, we found increasing diversity of fields and clusters in the citations of the seed set, indicating that the field of sustainability science is not yet moving into a more transdisciplinary state.


Sustainability science Knowledge base Bibliometric analysis Network visualisation Clustering Trends Transdisciplinarity 


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Copyright information

© Springer 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Science and Technology Studies Leiden UniversityLeidenThe Netherlands

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