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A human actor model as a conceptual orientation in interdisciplinary research for sustainable development


Wiesmann, Urs; Ott, Cordula; Ifejika Speranza, Speranza; Kiteme, Boniface P; Müller-Böker, Ulrike; Messerli, Peter; Zinsstag, Jakob (2011). A human actor model as a conceptual orientation in interdisciplinary research for sustainable development. In: Wiesmann, Urs; Hurni, Hans. Research for Sustainable Development: Foundations, Experiences, and Perspectives. Bern: Universität Bern, 231-256.

Abstract

Pursuing the normative goal of sustainable development is necessarily bound to the values held by the actors involved, and to these actors as agents of change. The outcomes of development efforts and interventions depend on actors’ actions and reactions, which are largely determined by these actors’ agency. The questions of how actors are conceptualised in development-oriented research and to what extent the resulting concept is shared beyond the social science community are thus of fundamental importance. Current livelihood models in development-oriented research fail to address agency; strategies of action and, consequently, change and innovation in action largely remain black boxes. In this article we propose a general human actor model that can serve as a tool for communication, reflection, and orientation in development-oriented research. It explicitly builds on existing theoretical foundations and ontologies and comprises four nested components: (1) action as the dynamic interplay between activity, means, and meaning, (2) strategy of action as a combination of actions, (3) dynamic conditions of action, to which activities and means are exposed, and (4) institutions, in which meanings of action are embedded. Application of the proposed model in interdisciplinary research for sustainable development has shown that the model can be concretised for specific actor categories, and therefore has a high heuristic potential regarding concrete inter- and transdisciplinary research questions. The model can trigger theoretical innovation and, most importantly, it can be used to promote reflexivity and unravel and share ethical positions in development-oriented research.

Abstract

Pursuing the normative goal of sustainable development is necessarily bound to the values held by the actors involved, and to these actors as agents of change. The outcomes of development efforts and interventions depend on actors’ actions and reactions, which are largely determined by these actors’ agency. The questions of how actors are conceptualised in development-oriented research and to what extent the resulting concept is shared beyond the social science community are thus of fundamental importance. Current livelihood models in development-oriented research fail to address agency; strategies of action and, consequently, change and innovation in action largely remain black boxes. In this article we propose a general human actor model that can serve as a tool for communication, reflection, and orientation in development-oriented research. It explicitly builds on existing theoretical foundations and ontologies and comprises four nested components: (1) action as the dynamic interplay between activity, means, and meaning, (2) strategy of action as a combination of actions, (3) dynamic conditions of action, to which activities and means are exposed, and (4) institutions, in which meanings of action are embedded. Application of the proposed model in interdisciplinary research for sustainable development has shown that the model can be concretised for specific actor categories, and therefore has a high heuristic potential regarding concrete inter- and transdisciplinary research questions. The model can trigger theoretical innovation and, most importantly, it can be used to promote reflexivity and unravel and share ethical positions in development-oriented research.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Book Section, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography
Dewey Decimal Classification:910 Geography & travel
Language:English
Date:2011
Deposited On:30 Apr 2012 15:55
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 15:46
Publisher:Universität Bern
Series Name:Perspectives of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) North-South
Number:Vol. 6
ISBN: 978-3-905835-31-1
Additional Information:Ist gleichzeitig in der Reihe Geographica Bernensia erschienen
Official URL:http://www.nccr-north-south.unibe.ch/publications/Infosystem/On-line%20Dokumente/Upload/11_Wiesmann(1).pdf

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