From causes to reasons: the human dimension of agricultural sustainability

N.G. Röling

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

    20 Citations (Scopus)


    The point of departure of this paper is the familiar instrumental perspective that focuses on causes and effects and on actions to do something about them. This perspective is appealing and familiar and exemplified here by the Pressure, State, Response (PSR) Model used by the OECD to analyse environmental issues. After presenting the details of this approach, the paper then presents the other side of the coin: an approach based not on causes but on human reasons. In trying to explain sustainability, it does not look for causes and effects in the physical world, but for human reasons in terms of people's 'gets', 'wants', 'knowing' and 'doing'. This translates as an exercise in interpreting the perfectly valid instrumental discourse about agricultural sustainability into a totally different discourse based on cognition and learning. This translation seems to add something that is worth taking into account. The 'pressure' in OECD's PSR model takes on a new appearance. After providing examples on how the new perspective can be applied, the paper draws implications for the combination of the domains of knowledge we need to look at agricultural sustainability. It concludes with an example based on research of a social learning approach in a Dutch water catchment.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)73-88
    Number of pages16
    JournalInternational Journal of Agricultural Sustainability
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2003


    • sustainability
    • learning theory
    • learning
    • social interaction
    • knowledge
    • social cognition


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