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How long can we keep doing this? Sustainability as a strictly temporal concept

  • Chris R. ColocousisEmail author
  • Cesar J. Rebellon
  • Nick Smith
  • Stefan Sobolowski
Article

Abstract

Sustainability has become both an increasingly prominent societal project and a central object of study. At the same time, the concept’s purview has grown to encompass not only issues that bear directly on humanity’s ability to endure, but an increasingly value-laden set of ideas such as social justice. We argue that this conflation of the functional and the normative in established conceptualizations of sustainability is a problematic trend for several reasons. First, it has obscured a common sense understanding of sustainability squarely focused on the ability of a given system or practice to persist across time. Second, by shifting the focus from that which can objectively endure to that which should subjectively be preserved, recent conceptions of sustainability encourage a tendency toward the expansion of sustainability’s purview, often along increasingly ideological lines. Third, by diffusing a core substantive focus on temporal durability and incorporating increasingly normative social prescriptions, we suspect that many conceptualizations of sustainability have alienated potential allies, conveying to them that a vote for sustainability is ultimately a vote for a slew of progressive causes. Further, as prescriptive conceptions of sustainability promote coalitions among groups who do have common goals, the moral basis of those goals provides traction for ideologically opposed groups to forestall fundamental functional reforms on the basis of their association with less critical normative issues. Subsuming normative considerations under the banner of sustainability may ultimately be more detrimental than beneficial for achieving the most pressing functional goals upon which most normative goals themselves depend.

Keywords

Sustainability Resilience Environmental politics Temporality Socioecological systems 

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Copyright information

© AESS 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Chris R. Colocousis
    • 1
    Email author
  • Cesar J. Rebellon
    • 2
  • Nick Smith
    • 3
  • Stefan Sobolowski
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Sociology and AnthropologyJames Madison UniversityHarrisonburgUSA
  2. 2.Department of SociologyUniversity of New HampshireDurhamUSA
  3. 3.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of New HampshireDurhamUSA
  4. 4.Uni Research Climate and the Bjerknes Centre for Climate ResearchBergenNorway

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