Social learning research in ecological economics: A survey

Bernd Siebenhüner*, Romina Rodela, Franz Ecker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


Social learning studies emerged as part of the ecological economics research agenda rather recently. Questions of how human societies and organisations learn and transition on the basis of environmental knowledge relate to the core ideas of ecological economics with its pluralistic understanding of human behaviour in contrast to the limited focus on incentive-driven behaviour. Our study analyses the emergence and thematic foci of social learning studies within ecological economics over the past 15 years. We selected and analysed 54 articles published after peer review in established journals adhering to the epistemological tradition of ecological economics. This study is guided by the interest in how social learning is conceptualised, how this research is positioned in terms of process dynamics, causal factors and outcomes of learning. Results show, that the number of related papers grew substantially in recent years. Also the role of formal or informal institutions has been found to be a strong causal factor for social learning and change processes vis-à-vis technological, economic or political factors. In addition, there is a growing awareness of social learning processes in various environmental policy fields such as biodiversity governance, water and land management, fisheries, and climate adaptation. We conclude that these insights can give new impulses to research on socio-ecological transition and to the related debate on societal change and transformation processes as core topics for ecological economics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)116-126
JournalEnvironmental Science & Policy
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016


  • Ecological economics
  • Knowledge
  • Learning
  • Social change
  • Social learning
  • Transdisciplinary studies

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