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Developing post-normal technologies for sustainability


  • Frame, Bob
  • Brown, Judy


The last two decades have seen the development of an array of techniques and practices aimed at promoting sustainability. For many, results have been disappointing. There are charges that supposedly new organisational approaches remain embedded in managerialist, functionalist and anti-dialogic frameworks that are a significant part of the problem. Similarly the technocratic scientization of public policy is viewed as ill-equipped to deal with the social, economic and ecological issues currently facing neo-liberal societies. In this paper we seek to interpret these frustrations and identify pathways that move beyond this. Specifically, we argue that the gap between sustainability rhetoric and sustainability practices can be reconceptualised through the practice of science as post-normal and through developing the notion of post-normal sustainability technologies (PNSTs). The exponents of post-normal science show why stakeholder engagement in sustainability (and other scientific) issues is critical for the legitimacy and quality of decisions and the admission of complexity in decision-making and accountability processes. Building on this now well-established foundation we seek to characterise, and give examples of, PNSTs as tools for achieving this participation; wherein stakeholders assume expertise and interact with those possessing more traditional forms of expertise in order to co-produce knowledge about sustainability. Recognition of ideological and value diversity is also central to the post-normal sustainability agenda and with PNSTs, the values-based nature of the issues involved is articulated in a way that seeks to bring politics openly into the picture. To this end we identify processes that are emerging in the literature and in practice that will enable PNSTs. These include extended peer communities and multi-actor heuristics, agonistic processes and new characterisations of citizenship that support moves to sustainability. In so doing, we believe that PNSTs offer "clumsy solutions" for "wicked problems" that can be engaged with in both the research and practice arenas as significant contributions to addressing urgent needs.

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  • Frame, Bob & Brown, Judy, 2008. "Developing post-normal technologies for sustainability," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 65(2), pages 225-241, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ecolec:v:65:y:2008:i:2:p:225-241

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    18. repec:eee:crpeac:v:20:y:2009:i:3:p:313-342 is not listed on IDEAS

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