Stewardship as a boundary object for sustainability research in the Anthropocene: Linking care, knowledge and agency

Authors: Johan Enqvist*, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Simon West, Stockholm Resilience Centre , L Jamila Haider , Stockholm Resilience Centre , Vanessa A Masterson , Stockholm Resilience Centre , Uno Svedin, Stockholm Resilience Centre
Topics: Sustainability Science, Anthropocene, Coupled Human and Natural Systems
Keywords: Environmental ethics, human-nature relations, literature review, motivation, natural resource management, responsibility
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Napoleon A3, Sheraton, 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The Anthropocene poses pressing challenges for human relations to the environment, including how we understand, act in, and care for the world around us. The concept of stewardship is increasingly used in sustainability research to emphasize and describe responses to these challenges. However, there are many different interpretations and uses of stewardship – including ecosystem, Earth and biosphere stewardship – informed by different (inter-) disciplinary assumptions and expertise, as well as the long history of the concept in academic and lay contexts. Stewardship thus represents a potentially useful boundary object for contemporary sustainability research, enabling collaboration and dialogue between different actors while acknowledging the differences in use and perception of the term. In this paper, we set out to provide conceptual clarity and guidance to enhance the utility of stewardship as a boundary object and help researchers and practitioners navigate the challenges and opportunities that come with using the term. We do this by (a) providing the first qualitative systematic literature review of stewardship, and (b) articulating a novel framework for thinking through and relating different uses of stewardship centered around three dimensions – care, knowledge and agency. Through the review, we identify four themes within the literature that represent different emphases, disciplinary foci, and approaches to stewardship. We then use the proposed framework to show how the themes can be understood in relation to each other, and to identify future avenues for stewardship research. We argue in particular for increased attention to the care dimension of stewardship.

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