THEMATIC FORUM - The challenges and promises of confronting conflicting narratives: a case study on sustainability and well-being

Gaël Brulé

Ever since the Brundtland report, there have been multiple discussions around the fact that social sustainability needs to be accompanied by ecological and economic sustainability. Sustainability has often been conceptualized as well-being across time for all generations. In this article, I shed light on the complex relationship be-tween well-being and sustainability that is covered by two apparently opposite nar-ratives. On the one hand, there is a vast literature in which authors claim that the two concepts are consonant, meaning that the well-being of individuals and envi-ronmental protection tend to go hand in hand. On the other hand, zooming out to a macro level leads to a different story, with happy people in high-income countries polluting more than unhappy people from low-income countries. In this article, by taking two opposite views on the matter – a constructivist view of sustainability not based on resources in the social sciences and a hard, environmental view of sustain-ability not including social perspectives in the natural sciences –, I show that 1) these two narratives are not incompatible but rather two sides of the same coin that largely ignore each other, 2) there are epistemological and methodological barriers between them, and 3) there are epistemological and methodological complementa-rities that enable their coexistence.

Keywords: well-being, ecological footprint, narratives, barriers, epistemology, methodology

Vol. 1/2022 - Thematic Forum 1.4


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