Session 10

10. Mapping Actor-Constellations in Sustainability Research: How Can we Account for Heterogeneity and Invisibility?

In recent societies, there are heterogeneous actors involved when it comes to enacting and specifying existential and overarching issues related to sustainability (e.g. power storage and energy supply, sustainable tourism, local food and waste). Sometimes actors want to promote a specific interpretation these issues, but often they are only indirectly involved and remain less visible. With this session, we aim to discuss the methodical problems and solutions of mapping heterogeneous and differently visible actor-constellations in sustainability transformations. We are particularly interested in the identification strategies of relevant actors in often conflict-ridden and transnational fields. In these settings, actors do not agree on shared assumptions on who is relevant to constituting what contested terms like sustainability, green or renewable actually mean. Often we are still using a snowball strategy, hopping from one actor to others named as relevant by this actor. But what are alternatives in selecting actors and cases? How can we provide a mapping, where the field-site is too big to use snowball sampling, e.g. in transnational fields? And: How can we detect actors relevant in practice, but invisible to the practitioners themselves? Beyond the question of case-selection, what do we gain when combining different qualitative and/or quantitative methods for the purpose of mapping actors’ constellations? What are the means, by which we can disentangle patterns of domination within actors’ webs of relations and their discursive strategies, norms or values? How can we identify sub-populations or groups with similar interpretations or topics within these constellations? In this session, we will explore these and other questions together across a wide range of sustainability research fields and trace the constellations between heterogeneous and potentially invisible actors. In this sense, we welcome contributions that address the diversity of actors, ranging from citizens and consumers to regulatory agencies, companies and civil society organizations, to nation states and international meta-organizations. The session is discussing these questions in manifold areas of sustainability research, in general, and its diverse connections in academic and practice research (e.g. energy research, food, agriculture, tourism, green services, waste-regimes, power storage or energy supply). Thus, we welcome submissions on the following questions related to different branches of sustainability research:

(a) Methodical strategies to identify and map heterogeneous actors and their relations;

(b) Methodical strategies to include/consider invisible social actors relevant to a given field;

(c) Methodical strategies to decide who is a relevant actor in constituting the meaning of pressing sustainability issues (and who is not);

(d) Different approaches to analyze patterns in these heterogeneous actor-constellations (e.g. sub-sub-populations or subordination);

(e) Discussing the usefulness of combining different methods in data collection and data analysis.