Population and Environment

, Volume 34, Issue 4, pp 481–509 | Cite as

Inter- and transdisciplinary approaches to population–environment research for sustainability aims: a review and appraisal

  • Diana HummelEmail author
  • Susana Adamo
  • Alex de Sherbinin
  • Laura Murphy
  • Rimjhim Aggarwal
  • Leo Zulu
  • Jianguo Liu
  • Kyle Knight
Original Paper


The causes and consequences of demographic changes for the environment, and the possible ways of influencing population dynamics to achieve ‘sustainability’, have been the subject of many debates in science and policy in recent decades. However, the body of knowledge concerning relationships between population dynamics and sustainability is quite fragmented, dispersed over many disciplines, and encompasses diverse theories, paradigms and methodologies. This paper reviews four selected frameworks: linear, multiplicative, mediated, and system-theoretical approaches and perspectives. We represent how population–environment relationships are conceptualized, provide examples of research questions and accepted approaches, and critically assess their utility for different sorts of research for sustainable development. We note the growing recognition of the value of embracing complexity in population–environment research, and how this is consistent with normative aims of development.


Population–environment theory Methodology Political ecology Sustainable development STIRPAT Sustainable livelihoods approach Social-ecological systems Transdisciplinarity 



Our thanks go to the anonymous reviewers and the editor of POEN, Lori Hunter, for their constructive, thought-provoking comments and suggestions.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Diana Hummel
    • 1
    Email author
  • Susana Adamo
    • 2
  • Alex de Sherbinin
    • 2
  • Laura Murphy
    • 3
  • Rimjhim Aggarwal
    • 4
  • Leo Zulu
    • 5
  • Jianguo Liu
    • 6
  • Kyle Knight
    • 7
  1. 1.Institute for Social-Ecological Research (ISOE)Frankfurt am MainGermany
  2. 2.The Earth Institute at Columbia UniversityCIESINPalisadesUSA
  3. 3.Department of International Health and DevelopmentTulane University School of Public Health and Tropical MedicineNew OrleansUSA
  4. 4.School of SustainabilityArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  5. 5.Department of GeographyMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  6. 6.Center for Systems Integration and SustainabilityMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  7. 7.Department of SociologyUniversity of AlabamaHuntsvilleUSA

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