Evolution and structure of sustainability science
Luís M. A. Bettencourt a,b,1 and Jasleen Kaur c
aSanta Fe Institute, 1399 Hyde Park Rd, Santa Fe, NM 87501;
bTheoretical Division, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, NM 87545; and
cCenter for Complex Networks and Systems Research, School of Informatics and Computing, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47406
Edited by William C. Clark, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, and approved September 27, 2011 (received for review February 19, 2011)
The concepts of sustainable development have experienced extraordinary success since their advent in the 1980s. They are now an integral part of the agenda of governments and corporations, and their goals have become central to the mission of research laboratories and universities worldwide. However, it remains unclear how far the field has progressed as a scientific discipline, especially given its ambitious agenda of integrating theory, applied science, and policy, making it relevant for development globally and generating a new interdisciplinary synthesis across fields. To address these questions, we assembled a corpus of scholarly publications in the field and analyzed its temporal evolution, geographic distribution, disciplinary composition, and collaboration structure. We show that sustainability science has been growing explosively since the late 1980s when foundational publications in the field increased its pull on new authors and intensified their interactions. The field has an unusual geographic footprint combining contributions and connecting through collaboration cities and nations at very different levels of development. Its decomposition into traditional disciplines reveals its emphasis on the management of human, social, and ecological systems seen primarily from an engineering and policy perspective. Finally, we show that the integration of these perspectives has created a new field only in recent years as judged by the emergence of a giant component of scientific collaboration. These developments demonstrate the existence of a growing scientific field of sustainability science as an unusual, inclusive and ubiquitous scientific practice and bode well for its continued impact and longevity.
science of science, population dynamics, geography, topological transition, networks
1To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author contributions: L.M.A.B. designed research; L.M.A.B. and J.K. performed research; L.M.A.B. and J.K. contributed new reagents/analytic tools; L.M.A.B. and J.K. analyzed data; and L.M.A.B. wrote the paper.
The authors declare no conflict of interest.
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