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The concept of the Anthropocene as a game-changer: a new context for social innovation and transformations to sustainability

Per Olsson, Stockholm Resilience Centre
Michele-Lee Moore, University of Victoria; Stockholm Resilience Centre
Frances R. Westley, Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience, University of Waterloo
Daniel D. P. McCarthy, Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience, University of Waterloo


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After tracing the antecedents of the concept and considering its intersection in social innovation research, we put forward the argument that the Anthropocene concept points to three areas of thought that are strategically imperative and must be accelerated if social innovation theory and practice is to prove transformative and respond to the challenges associated with the Anthropocene. First, we contend that the current debate on social innovation for sustainability lacks a deeper focus on human-environmental interactions and the related feedbacks, which will be necessary to understand and achieve large-scale change and transformations to global sustainability. Many innovations focus on only the social or the ecological, and we believe a more integrated approach will be needed moving forward. Second, social innovation research must confront the path-dependencies embedded within systems, and we propose that the act of “bricolage,” which recombines existing elements in novel ways, will be essential, rather than single variable solutions, which currently dominate social innovation discussions. Finally, we put forward the idea that confronting the cross-scalar nature of the Anthropocene requires revisiting both the scope and temporal nature of social innovations that are most typically focused upon by scholars and funders alike. We believe the concept of the Anthropocene creates new opportunities for social innovation scholars to imagine new possibilities.

Key words

Anthropocene; bricolage; scaling; social-ecological systems; social innovation; transformations to sustainability

Copyright © 2017 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087