The Contributions of Culture/s to Sustainability Science and Practice: Clarifying Key Relationships for Advocacy and Action

By Michel Gueldry.

Published by The International Journal of Sustainability in Economic, Social and Cultural Context

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Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: August 17, 2016 $US5.00

Sustainability and culture are elusive concepts whose complex rapport warrants systematic consideration. Therefore, this paper seeks to clarify key meanings and uses of the word “culture/s” for sustainability analyses and practices, uses the United States and France as case studies to illustrate how culture influences sustainability at the national level, and explores how intercultural competence may be mobilized for sustainability. We borrow from the United Nations’ International Institute for Sustainable Development to define sustainability as a linchpin concept and a comprehensive approach that cuts across traditional intellectual and empirical divisions. Then we propose a definition of the concept of “social capital” for sustainability and argue that sustainability has a psychological- cultural core and entails a substantive cultural shift. Next, our consideration of the connections between sustainability and culture shows that sustainability defined largo sensu entails 1) the right cognitive, scientific, and technological ideas (culture for sustainability); 2) social norms, values, and stories that critique business-and-power-as-usual and inspire better practices (culture of sustainability); 3) a firm grounding in ethics and compassion beyond morality-as-usual (culture toward sustainability); 4) the flourishing of cultural pluralism and of social capital (sociocultural sustainability); and 5) intercultural competence to negotiate sustainability objectives across cultures. Understanding the role of culture for social change and using this knowledge to mobilize stakeholders empowers advocates of sustainability sciences and practices.

Keywords: Sustainability, Culture, Narratives, Constructivism, Social Capital, Social Psychology

The International Journal of Social Sustainability in Economic, Social and Cultural Context, Volume 12, Issue 3, September 2016, pp.35-52. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: August 17, 2016 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 813.158KB)).

Dr. Michel Gueldry

Professor, Middlebury Institute of International Studies, Monterey, California, USA