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Towards a Natural Social Contract

Transformative Social-Ecological Innovation for a Sustainable, Healthy and Just Society

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  • Open Access
  • © 2021

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  • Proposes a fundamental change in the way humans interact with their social and natural environment
  • Advocates a shift from a growth-oriented society to a more ecocentric and regenerative society
  • Develops a transformative social-ecological innovation framework for sustainable solutions to endemic issues
  • This book is open access, which means that you have free and unlimited access

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About this book

This open access book is a 2022 Nautilus Gold Medal winner in the category "World Cultures' Transformational Growth & Development". It states that the societal fault lines of our times are deeply intertwined and that they confront us with challenges affecting the security, fairness and sustainability of our societies. The author, Prof. Dr. Patrick Huntjens, argues that overcoming these existential challenges will require a fundamental shift from our current anthropocentric and economic growth-oriented approach to a more ecocentric and regenerative approach. He advocates for a Natural Social Contract that emphasizes long-term sustainability and the general welfare of both humankind and planet Earth. Achieving this crucial balance calls for an end to unlimited economic growth, overconsumption and over-individualisation for the benefit of ourselves, our planet, and future generations. To this end, sustainability, health, and justice in all social-ecological systems will require systemic innovation and prioritizing a collective effort. The Transformative Social-Ecological Innovation (TSEI) framework presented in this book serves that cause. It helps to diagnose and advance innovation and spur change across sectors, disciplines, and at different levels of governance. Altogether, TSEI identifies intervention points and formulates jointly developed and shared solutions to inform policymakers, administrators, concerned citizens, and professionals dedicated towards a more sustainable, healthy and just society. 

A wide readership of students, researchers, practitioners and policy makers interested in social innovation, transition studies, development studies, social policy, social justice, climate change, environmental studies, political science and economics will find this cutting-edge book particularly useful.

“As a sustainability transition researcher, I am truly excited about this book. Two unique aspects of the book are that it considers bigger transformation issues (such as societies’ relationship with nature, purpose and justice) than those studied in transition studies and offers analytical frameworks and methods for taking up the challenge of achieving change on the ground.”

-         Prof. Dr. René Kemp, United Nations University and Maastricht Sustainability Institute

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Table of contents (9 chapters)

  1. The Quest for a Natural Social Contract

  2. Theories and Concepts

  3. Part III


“This book is a compelling and educational deep dive into how we can strive toward healthier lives, a healthier society, and a healthier environment. With societies worldwide becoming even more divided on issues like the environment, health, and sustainability, along comes Huntjens, who lays out a plan for action that calls for a change in the way we think about growth and development.” (FIVE STARS (on a 1-5 scale), reviewed by Tammy Ruggles for Readers' Favorite)

“Huntjens offers up an independently conceptualized and compelling argument addressing the necessity of a new social contract in an era in which the social imperatives must be matched with ecological imperatives. Huntjens digs deeply, covering topics such as the necessary sustainability transition and the new social contract, the history of social contracts and the failings of models that were aligned purely on economic growth at the ecological expense, theories and concepts that embody principles and governance, anda detailed, ambitious agenda for the transition itself.” (FIVE STARS (on a 1-5 scale), reviewed by Jamie Michele for Readers' Favorite)

“This is an influential and exceptionally well-executed non-fiction book with research-backed data and real-time application potential. I have no doubt that those who are willing to listen will also be the catalyst for change.” (FIVE STARS (on a 1-5 scale), reviewed by Jamie Michele for Readers' Favorite)

“Towards a Natural Social Contract is geared to academics, but it may well appeal to a broader audience, including students, policymakers, and other professionals, considering that the magnitude of global ecological change affects all of us. Professor Patrick Huntjens writes with a clear and well-researched view on his subject and makes it clear that his vision of a natural social contract focuses on sustainable ways to improve our engagement with nature in ways that posterity will similarly benefit.” (FIVE STARS (on a 1-5 scale), reviewed by Vincent Dublado for Readers' Favorite) 

“With the notions of Transformative Socio-Ecological Innovation and Natural Social Contract, the book makes an original contribution on the nature of transformative change that is needed (which goes beyond socio-technical change), and possibilities for producing this, through innovation, new partnerships, changes in governance and attention to multiple value creation that jointly (in combination) make up a transition to a sustainable, healthy and just society. If you liked the books The Great Mindshift of Maja Göpel and Doughnut Economics of Kate Raworth, you will also like this book. The same holds true if you liked the book Transitions to Sustainable Development by John Grin, Jan Rotmans and Johan Schot.” (Prof. Dr. Rene Kemp, United Nations University - Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (UNU-MERIT), and Maastricht Sustainability Institute (MSI), Maastricht University)


Authors and Affiliations

  • Research and Innovation Centre Agri, Food and Life Sciences (RIC-AFL), Inholland University of Applied Sciences, Delft, The Netherlands

    Patrick Huntjens

About the author

Dr. Patrick Huntjens is Professor of 'Social Innovation and Governance for Sustainability' at the Research and Innovation Centre Agri, Food and Life Sciences (RIC-AFL), Inholland University of Applied Sciences, The Netherlands. In addition, he is Professor of ‘Governance of Sustainability Transitions’ at Maastricht Sustainability Institute (MSI), The School of Business and Economics (SBE), Maastricht University.

From 2017-2019 he was Director of The Hague Humanitarian Cooperative for Water (HHCW), from 2013-2017 Head of Water Diplomacy and Climate Governance at The Hague Institute for Global Justice, and from 2011-2013, he was Director of the Water Partner Foundation. At Wageningen University and Research (WUR) he was coordinator of the Centre of Excellence - Governance of Climate Adaptation from 2010-2012, after working as Coordinator of EU-Asia relations on Water Governance in the EU-funded multi-stakeholder platform ASEM-Waternet (2006-2010). In the period 2000-2006 he worked as a policy officer for the Netherlands Government and as an international consultant for Royal HaskoningDHV. 

With 23 years of professional experience, and working in more than 40 countries, his work focuses on environmental governance and diplomacy, societal innovation and sustainability transitions at multiple levels (global to local). He is spearheading a Research and Innovation Agenda with a core focus on the governance of sustainability transitions, with specific attention for issues of politics and power in transitions, and drawing on the wider field of governance, innovation and transition studies as well as other fields like complexity theory and systems theory. Ongoing research and educational activities include 1) transition to a sustainable and healthy agri-food system, 2) governance of urban sustainability transitions, and 3) transition to circular and regenerative economies and cultures. 

Patrick has a multi-disciplinary background, including a Ph.D. (Magna Cum Laude) in Complex System Sciences and Policy Sciences, an MSc Degree (Cum Laude) in Political Science & International Relations and an MSc Degree in Ecology and Environmental Management. His PhD-dissertation was endorsed by Prof. Dr. Elinor Ostrom, the first woman in history receiving the Nobel Prize in Economics.

He solidifies his expertise with activities on the ground, mainly as international team leader, consultant, action researcher, process manager and mediator. For example, from 2014 to 2015 he was lead mediator (Track II) in the Israeli-Palestinian water conflict, assigned by the Geneva Initiative and the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Other clients include the World Bank, United Nations, European Commission, various governments and NGOs.

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