Narratives and Images of Sustainability

What are the principal narratives within the field of sustainable development research? How did they evolve? What has caused some narratives to fade into the background and others to prevail? These questions guide research in the IASS project “Narratives and Images of Sustainability”, which will also consider how research at the institute is shaped by particular narratives of sustainable transformation. Researchers will also explore the potential of artistic representations and symbols to support transformations towards sustainability.

Understanding narratives of sustainability

The research team hopes to gain a better understanding of the factors that contribute to the success or failure of narratives of sustainability. Do particular socio-psychological patterns lend impetus to or hamper the success of particular narratives? Do narratives gain greater currency through their association with particular lifestyles? To what extent does power influence the success or demise of narratives? The scope of this research will extend along the entire communication chain, from the transmitter to the receiver.

Which images and symbols foster change?

The insights gained through this research will contribute to the development of guidelines on the design and utilisation of narratives. A sub-project will explore the potential of artistic and symbolic representations to support transformations towards sustainability by contributing to the development of an art exhibition in Valparaíso (Chile) that will foster dialogue on sustainable development. Outputs from this project in 2017 will include a book and two scientific articles. An IASS Working Paper featuring interviews on narratives of sustainable development will be published in preparation for a workshop here in Potsdam.



01/2017 to 12/2018 (project may be extended)

Project partners:


Narratives, art and science, communicating sustainable development, discourse analysis


Scientific Project Leader: Dr Manuel Rivera

Research Associates: Thiago Pinto Barbosa, Oscar Schmidt

Supervising Directors: Prof. Patrizia Nanz, Prof. Mark Lawrence

Team Assistant: N.N.