continuously unfolding processes and relationships as the ontological basis of reality

  • not just about paying attention to relationships between entities
  • entities seen as convergence of relationships

Whereas modernist approaches propose that entities are distinct and essentially static, and systems approaches that entities are distinct but move and interact with each other, relational approaches suggest that what we perceive as entities are themselves already constituted by movement (Ingold 2011).

For instance, what we experience as a (relatively) stable human being is produced through the temporary convergence of var­ious processes (breathing, cell renewal, occurrence of thoughts) that unfold through the formation of rela­tionships within the surrounding world (Ingold 2004; Hertz et al. 2020). This applies from complex organ­isms like humans ‘all the way down’ to genes and molecules

Article - A relational turn for sustainability science - West et al 2020

  • not imply a shift away from concepts
    • instead of reducing, concepts can be generative, enabling us to do things differently
    • not either/or but both/and
    • concepts as “tools that enable us to capture and compare different aspects of experience and navigate the world (Cook and Wagenaar 2012). Therefore, language does not simply reflect the world but actively intervenes in and shapes it – it is ‘performative’ (Butler 1988)“

knowledge is:

  • ‘contingent’
  • ‘situated’ (reflective of the context in which it was produced).

embrace of multiple knowledges

Full article: Engaging with the pragmatics of relational thinking, leverage points and transformations – Reply to West et al.

We outline three questions to be answered in order to more firmly establish relational thinking in sustainability science:

  • If systems and processes are continually unfolding, how do we identify where to lever change for sustainability?
  • In relational thinking, can we explain human action outside of the shared ‘activity of experiencing’?
  • If society and ecology is co-constituted, how can relational approaches be used to understand unfolding and cascading effects in complex systems?

Related: Bruno Latour | ethics of care