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Journal Article

Experimentalism and its alternatives: toward viable strategies for transformative change and sustainability


Meyer,  John
IASS Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies Potsdam;

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Meyer, J. (2023 online): Experimentalism and its alternatives: toward viable strategies for transformative change and sustainability. - Sustainability: science, practice, & policy, 19, 1, 2166217.

Cite as: https://publications.iass-potsdam.de/pubman/item/item_6002677
Experimentalism’s newfound prominence in relation to climate-change action invites questions—integral to this special issue—about whether it is capable of meeting the transformational challenges that societies face. Answers require greater clarity regarding what experimentalism is, and is not. To address this, I first conceptualize the available alternatives. Drawing from John Dewey’s influential account, these alternatives can appropriately be understood as “absolutist.” I argue that both policy insiders’ plans for carbon pricing and trading schemes and outsiders’ radical vanguardist visions fit here, each offering the false promise of a singular correct criteria by which to formulate and evaluate strategies for change. By contrast, experimentalism can be understood as a rich and promising method. While critics often characterize it as modeled on voluntary lifestyle initiatives, which can readily co-exist within a larger unsustainable order, an understanding of experimentalism ought not be limited to individualized or depoliticized projects. Properly understood, I argue that it includes approaches that can be scalable and political in ways that might foster systemic change.