Feola, G. What is transformation? A review of emerging concepts. 11th International Conference of the European Society for Ecological Economics, 30 June-3 July 2015, University of Leeds, United Kingdom.
The study of societal transformation in response to environmental change has become established, yet little consensus exists regarding the conceptual basis of transformation. This paper aims to provide structure to the dialogue on transformation, and to reflect on the challenges of social research in this area. Concepts of transformation are identified through a literature review, and examined using four analytical criteria. It is found that the term transformation is frequently used merely as a metaphor. When transformation is not used as a metaphor, eight concepts are most frequently employed. They differ with respect to (i) system conceptualization, (ii) notions of social consciousness (deliberate/emergent), and (iii) outcome (prescriptive/descriptive). Problem-based research tends to adopt concepts of deliberate transformation with prescriptive outcome, while concepts of emergent transformation with no prescriptive outcome tend to inform descriptive-analytical research. Dialogue around the complementarities of different concepts and their empirical testing are priorities for future research.