Towards a Visual Typology of Sustainability and Sustainable Development


Towards a Visual Typology of Sustainability and Sustainable Development
AuthorJonathan R. Barton, Felipe Gutiérrez-Antinopai
Line(s)Socio-spatial Dynamics
Year of Publication2020
Journal TitleSustainability
typology; sustainable development; sustainability; communication; visual representation; etiology; systems; complexity

Representations of sustainability and sustainable development, as images, figures, and models have received relatively little attention in the literature, compared with textual definitions. However, there has been a concerted effort by authors to communicate complexity to specialized and wider audiences over the past fifty years. The purpose of this article is to present a taxonomy of visual representations of sustainability and sustainable development that reveal the conceptual diversity and complexity of these metanarratives of the dynamics of socio-ecological systems (SES). Using an exploratory and interpretive methodology, the principal objective is to describe and interpret the core traits of 18 different representations, which reflect the hybrid nature of sustainability and sustainable development depictions, but also allow them to be categorized into six main types. This exercise is based on the review of images used in the secondary literature on sustainability and sustainable development, and also websites that have compiled sets of images. The shared roots or common traits of the six main types are to be found in the principles of complexity, nonlinearity, holism, projection, and praxis. These roots reflect not only the dynamics of SES, but also how these system representations change according to their purposes and etiologies which are, in turn, defined by the academic, public, and private actors who design them.

Corresponding AuthorJonathan R. Barton