Sustainable development in a complex world
The thesis examines the development of theoretical models and practical tools for understanding and making decisions regarding sustainable development (SD) in a complex world. It seeks to answer three questions: • What is the meaning of SD in a complex world? • What are the implications for our policies and institutions? • What tools can we use to assist decision-making for SD in a complex world? The thesis examines these issues by bringing together thinking and research within complex systems theory, cultural theory and management theory. It also draws on the environmental and SD literatures, which are in turn associated with several disciplines including geography, economics and environmental science. The thesis is in four parts: The first part explores the diversity of SD definitions and the two main policy models for SD. It identifies the need for a theoretical explanation of the plurality of perspectives in the SD debate, and also for an integration of insights from complexity theory into SD definitions and policy models. The second part introduces complexity theory and cultural theory, and examines how they can support development of an improved understanding of sustainability. The third part applies complexity theory and cultural theory to analyse SD policies. It argues that these theories yield significant new insights about sustainability, including highlighting the importance of plurality and resilience in policy making for sustainability. The final part explores how the theories and tools developed by management science can be applied to sustainability, especially in increasing the plurality and resilience of SD decision making. It demonstrates that scenarios can promote the organisational learning and institutional resilience needed for sustainability, and that cultural theory provides an appropriate theoretical basis for scenario-building. The thesis concludes by developing a set of SD scenarios and analysing the results from their application.