An analysis of the methodological underpinnings of social learning research in natural resource Management

R. Rodela, G. Cundill, A.E.J. Wals

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52 Citations (Scopus)


This analysis is focused on research that uses a social learning approach to study natural resource issues. We map out the prevailing epistemological orientation of social learning research through the de-construction of the methodological choices reported in current social learning literature. Based on an analysis of 54 empirical investigations of social learning and natural resources published after peer review, we investigated aspects of research design that include data collection methods, evidence types and the researcher's role. We consider these against different research-orientations (positivist, interpretive, critical, and post-normal). We discuss which research-orientation appears most congruent with the overall commitment and premises of social learning studies. In line with initial expectations this study shows that positivist stances are hardly present, however research that follows a postnormal approach is less frequent than initially assumed. Instead, findings suggest that researchers using a social learning perspective to study resource issues tend to choose methodologies that allow for in-depth descriptions, for meaning making and enquiry as a form of action.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-26
JournalEcological Economics
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • post-normal science
  • ecological economics
  • public-participation
  • complex-systems
  • sustainability
  • perspective
  • pluralism
  • valuation


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