Overline: Special Issue
Headline: Reform or Revolution? What is at stake in democratic sustainability transformations

Calls for new forms of democratic sustainability and their achievement by way of a “great,” “socio-ecological,” and/or “democratic” transformation of societies have gained traction, both in academia and among policy makers. A special issue of the journal “Sustainability: Science, Practice and Policy”, edited by researchers from the IASS, examines what is at stake in current debates.

A new publication examines what is at stake in democratic sustainability transformations.
A new publication examines what is at stake in democratic sustainability transformations. Shutterstock/Rawpixel.com

Debates around transformations towards sustainability are often characterized by technocratic perspectives focused on resource efficiency, technological solutions, the harmonization of policies and regulations, and the promotion of sustainable consumer choices. In contrast to this, democratic approaches seek to advance sustainability by way of a “great”, “socio-ecological,” and democratic transformation. The introduction to the special issue provides a brief overview of contemporary interrelated debates on sustainability, democracy, and transformation. Discussing the main concepts, themes, and questions raised in the debates around “democratic sustainability transformations”, the authors note that much of the literature remains silent on what this would entail and on the underpinning theories of social change.

This is the starting point for the Special Issue “Reform or Revolution? What is at Stake in Democratic Sustainability Transformations”, edited by (former) IASS researchers Ariane Goetz, Boris Gotchev, Ina Richter, and Kristin Nicolaus. Spanning eight contributions by authors from diverse disciplines, the special issue considers three key questions in particular:

  • What can we say about the possibilities and problems of democratically enacting changes toward greater social, ecological, economic, and political sustainability in societies?
  • Which analytic frames are useful for evaluating change, including its democratic and sustainability quality?
  • Where do evaluations and judgments derive their analytical and normative legitimacy from?

The introduction to this special issue of Sustainability: Science, Practice and Policy is available here:

  • Ariane Goetz, Boris Gotchev, Ina Richter & Kristin Nicolaus (2020) Introduction to the special issue: reform or revolution? What is at stake in democratic sustainability transformations, Sustainability: Science, Practice and Policy, 16:1, 335-352, DOI: 10.1080/15487733.2020.1838794  


  • Andreas Fahrmeir “Democracies, change, sustainability, and transformation: historical perspectives”
  • Marcus Böick “In from the socialist “cold,” but burned by the capitalist “heat”? The dynamics of political revolution and economic transformation in Eastern Germany after 1990”
  • Max Koch “Structure, action and change: a Bourdieusian perspective on the preconditions for a degrowth transition”
  • Irina Velicu & Stefanie Barca “The Just Transition and its work of inequality”
  • Saurabh Arora, Barbara Van Dyck, Divya Sharma & Andy Stirling “Control, care, and conviviality in the politics of technology for sustainability”
  • Amanda Machin “The agony of nuclear: sustaining democratic disagreement in the Anthropocene”
  • Frederick Bird “A defense of objectivity in the social sciences, rightly understood”
  • Marit Hammond “Democratic deliberation for sustainability transformations: between constructiveness and disruption”

Link to the Special Issue: https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/tsus20/17/S2?nav=tocList