Performance versus Values in Sustainability Transformation of Food Systems

Sustainability 9 (3):332 (2017)
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Questions have been raised on what role the knowledge provided by sustainability science actually plays in the transition to sustainability and what role it may play in the future. In this paper we investigate different approaches to sustainability transformation of food systems by analyzing the rationale behind transformative acts-the ground that the direct agents of change act upon- and how the type of rationale is connected to the role of research and how the agents of change are involved. To do this we employ Max Weber’s distinction between instrumental rationality and value-rationality in social action. In particular, we compare two different approaches to the role of research in sustainability transformation: (1) Performance-based approaches that measure performance and set up sustainability indicator targets and benchmarks to motivate the agents in the food system to change; (2) Values-based approaches that aim at communicating and mediating sustainability values to enable coordinated and cooperative action to transform the food system. We identify their respective strengths and weaknesses based on a cross-case analysis of four cases, and propose that the two approaches, like Weber’s two types of rationality, are complementary-because they are based on complementary observer stances—and that an optimal in-between approach therefore cannot be found. However, there are options for reflexive learning by observing one perspective-and its possible blind spots-from the vantage point of the other, so we suggest that new strategies for sustainability transformation can be found based on reflexive rationality as a third and distinct type of rationality.



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