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Science-fiction literature as inspiration for social theorizing within sustainability research

Gendron, Corinne, Ivanaj, Silvester, Girard, Bernard, Arpin, Marie-Luc
Journal of cleaner production 2017 v.164 pp. 1553-1562
humans, social sciences, sustainable development
As commonly accepted, the stakes of sustainable development (SD) are altogether highly serious, complex, and diverse, spanning from changing living standards to the very future of mankind. Although it has long been argued that such complexity warrants radical change in the way “good” knowledge is conceived of and produced, it appears that much of sustainability research – including its grounding in social sciences – has yet to extend beyond the institutionalized precepts of natural science with regard to validity and credibility. In this context, this paper argues that crucial insights can be developed by opening social sciences’ theorizing process to undervalued forms of knowledge including art in general, and science-fiction literature in particular. To support this argument, current non-scientific productions of knowledge are reviewed in light of alternate conceptions of epistemological value. The potential of science fiction as thought experiments and inspiration for both problematizing and theory building in the social sciences is explored. In particular, certain science-fiction texts are thoroughly examined to illustrate how current problems pertaining to firm theories and management practice may be “discovered” (or made visible) only through science-fiction hindsight. Ultimately, the research shows how this hidden potential may be employed by social research to radically stimulate theoretical imagination and benefit sustainability research.