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Governing for sustainability: How research on large and complex systems can inform governance and institutional theory

Journal article
Authors Martin Sjöstedt
Published in Environmental Policy and Governance
Volume 29
Issue 4
Pages 293-302
ISSN 1756-932X
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Political Science
Pages 293-302
Language en
Keywords collective action, complex systems, governance, institutions, sustainability, planetary boundaries, global change, state, resilience, science, areas, ideas, Environmental Sciences & Ecology
Subject categories Political Science


This article takes its point of departure in the rapidly expanding field of research focusing on governance of large and complex systems and argues that this research should more explicitly recognize ongoing theoretical debates within contemporary and more mainstream governance research in order to fulfill all of its potential. This includes explicitly recognizing the fundamental and inherently political nature of governance as well as the potential contributions to be made from incorporating more of institutional theory in governance research. In addition, the article shows how research on large, complex systems can inform existing research on governance and institutional theory. Recent research on governance of large and complex systems could, for example, help governance research regain its relevance by explicitly focusing on the "big questions." Focusing on large and complex systems is certainly of paramount real-world importance, but it also highlights theoretical and empirical puzzles at the core of traditional disciplines such as political science or economics. Finally, the explicit systems perspective with its focus on nonlinearity and limited predictability could also help institutional theory move away from its underlying assumptions about functionalism and voluntarism and could, as such, contribute to existing research on institutional creation, reproduction, and change.

Page Manager: Webmaster|Last update: 9/11/2012

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