Book Chapter Details
Mandatory Fields
Khoo, S
2013 January
Methods of Sustainability Research in the Social Sciences
Sustainable Development of What? Contesting Global Development Concepts and Measures
Optional Fields
Concepts, measures, sustainable development, aggregate indicators, North, South
                           assess a development trend for sustainability, or compare development performance of different countries or regions, we have inevitably to ask the question: sustainable development of what? This chapter explores efforts to define, measure and compare aspects of development at the global level. The starting point is the proposition that the meanings and definitions of sustainable development are neither static, nor given. Sustainable development has been called a contestable concept, containing competing interpretations and ideas (Jacobs 1991). Sustainability is a ‘boundary term’, signifying complex interactions between science, politics, policymaking and development (Gieryn 1999; Scoones 2010, 153-4). The meaning of ‘development’ is similarly unsettled - development is an emergent and contested concept, with different understandings emerging over time and space. This fluidity has allowed different actors to redefine and manipulate the term ‘sustainable development’ in ways that suit their own agendas (Krueger & Gibb 2007, 8). Yet, as one critical commentator points out (Lélé 1991, 607), the absence of semantic and conceptual clarity hampers progress towards sustainability. Sustainable development must gain intellectual clarity and rigour and give up politically expedient fuzziness, if it is to achieve any impact (op.cit.). The conceptual and empirical challenges converge in the concern with measurement - ‘if sustainability is to mean anything, it must be measurable’ (Hamilton & Atkinson 2006, xi).
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