Submit a Manuscript to the Journal

Ecosystems and People

For a Special Issue on

A Relational Turn In Sustainability For Radical Social-Ecological Transformations

Manuscript deadline
31 December 2023

Cover image - Ecosystems and People

Special Issue Editor(s)

Simon West, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Sweden
[email protected]

Barbara Muraca, Department of Philosophy, University of Oregon, USA

Paula Novo, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, UK

Seb O'Connor, Scotland’s Rural College and University of Edinburgh, UK

Dominic Lenzi, Department of Philosophy, University of Twente, Netherlands

Submit an ArticleVisit JournalArticles

A Relational Turn In Sustainability For Radical Social-Ecological Transformations

Relational approaches have long informed diverse ways of living, knowing, and doing around the world, including numerous struggles for environmental justice, even as they have often been neglected in mainstream environmental and sustainability science, policy, and practice. In recent years, however, relational approaches have become more prominent in sustainability science through greater engagement with the humanities and social sciences, Indigenous knowledge systems, and a variety of ecological perspectives, resulting in new concepts such as relational values and Nature’s Contributions to People. At the same time, initiatives including Indigenous resurgence, post- and degrowth movements, feminist movements, and pluriversal politics and design, have mobilised differing forms of relationality in practice. These developments have been proposed as representing a possible ‘relational turn’ in sustainability towards radical social-ecological transformations more supportive of biological, social, and cultural diversity.

There are many forms of relational thinking present in Indigenous, Latin American, African, Eastern and Western philosophical traditions, among many others. While there are great differences between these traditions, relational philosophies commonly provide alternatives to the Western modernist, essentialist, and substantialist approaches that have dominated mainstream thinking on environment and sustainability. For example, relational approaches tend to view reality in terms of unfolding relations rather than foundational entities and challenge the inevitability of distinctions between nature and society and related dualisms of subject-object, mind-matter, intrinsic-instrumental and knowledge-action. Relational approaches often emphasise notions of care and respect for difference as alternatives to control, scaling-up and mainstreaming in environmental policy and practice.

The (re)emergence of relational thinking in sustainability science has prompted vibrant and sometimes contentious debates, with some arguing for the necessity of pragmatic approaches that retain or adapt existing concepts and practices (such as, for example, ecosystem services), and others arguing for greater recognition and space for relational philosophies from the Global South. Still others have suggested that, in challenging distinctions between nature and society, relational approaches may lose the ability to hold environmentally destructive actors to account and become susceptible to co-option by neoliberal ideologies. With attention to such concerns, different notions of relationality are increasingly mobilised by different actors, in different ways, to achieve different kinds of work in different contexts around the world.

Building on these developments and ensuing debates, this Special Issue invites contributions that explore, compare, and critically appraise diverse relational approaches to sustainability transformations, including theoretical, methodological and empirical contributions, as well as applications of relational thinking in policy and practice. Submissions from the Global South, Indigenous scholars, and early career researchers are especially welcome.

The following key topics and questions will be central to papers in the Special Issue:

  1. What relevance do different relational theories and philosophical traditions have for notions of sustainability transformations (including related concepts such as ecosystem services, resilience, regime shifts, leverage points, planetary boundaries and the Anthropocene)?
  2. How can different relational approaches be applied in empirical case studies, especially those relating to sustainability transformations?
  3. How can different relational approaches inform the practices of sustainability science itself, for example through the development of new research methods, approaches to theoretical work and fieldwork, ethics and working arrangements?
  4. How are different relational approaches being used in sustainability policy, practice and action, and what are the implications of relational approaches for the relationships between knowledge and action and/or the development of novel governance processes and tools?
  5. How do different relational approaches enrich or challenge existing political logics, and/or present new possibilities for the politics of transformative social-ecological change and sustainability?

Timeline of the Special Issue

  • Deadline for submission of abstracts: 30th Jan 2023
  • Notification of successful abstracts: 20th Feb 2023
  • Workshop with all contributing authors: March 2023
  • Deadline for submission of full papers: 15th Sept 2023

Submission Instructions

This special issue is open for contributions. Please submit a short summary (150 words) and an extended abstract (600-800 words) describing your proposed contribution by 30th January 2023 to the co-editors at: [email protected]. Abstracts should provide author names and affiliations, and should clearly state how the proposed contribution engages with the topics of the Special Issue and fits within the journal aims and scope. Successful submissions will be notified by 20th February 2023, and a workshop will be held with all contributing authors in March 2023 to share and synchronise contributions. Full papers will be due 31st December 2023. Please do not submit abstracts directly to the journal!

For the preparation of your manuscript, which should be of high quality and should not exceed 8,000 words, please use the guide for authors provided by the journal’s website. Note that this word limit can differ, depending on the article type. If the submitted article type is a perspective or short communication, for instance, the word limit will be considerably lower.

Please note that authors of accepted papers will pay an article publishing charge (APC), following double-blind peer review. The APC can be found in the Instructions for Authors on the journal website. Depending on your location, these charges may be subject to local taxes. Members of the Ecosystem Services Partnership (ESP) are eligible for a 15% discount on the standard APC. In addition, authors with affiliations in low-income countries will receive a 100% discount, and from lower-middle income countries a 50% discount publication costs.

When submitting, please select Special Issue paper as ‘Manuscript type’, and upon the question ‘Is your paper candidate for a Special Issue’ please click Yes and select Relational Turn in Sustainability in the drop-down list.

Instructions for AuthorsSubmit an Article