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Linking complexity and sustainability theories : implications for modeling sustainability transitions

Peter, Camaren ; Swilling, Mark (2014-03)

Please cite as follows: Peter, C. & Swilling, M. 2014. Linking Complexity and Sustainability Theories: Implications for Modeling Sustainability Transitions. Sustainability, 6(3):1594-1622, doi:10.3390/su6031594.

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In this paper, we deploy a complexity theory as the foundation for integration of different theoretical approaches to sustainability and develop a rationale for a complexity-based framework for modeling transitions to sustainability. We propose a framework based on a comparison of complex systems’ properties that characterize the different theories that deal with transitions to sustainability. We argue that adopting a complexity theory based approach for modeling transitions requires going beyond deterministic frameworks; by adopting a probabilistic, integrative, inclusive and adaptive approach that can support transitions. We also illustrate how this complexity-based modeling framework can be implemented; i.e., how it can be used to select modeling techniques that address particular properties of complex systems that we need to understand in order to model transitions to sustainability. In doing so, we establish a complexity-based approach towards modeling sustainability transitions that caters for the broad range of complex systems’ properties that are required to model transitions to sustainability.

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