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A fundamental transformation towards sustainability in face of complex social-ecological challenges needs to initiate deep changes of those incumbent system structures that support unsustainable trajectories, while at the same time encouraging a diversity of alternative practices. A review of transformation approaches towards sustainability shows that these do not (sufficiently) link processes of change at the micro level to deep leverages of change in wider system structures.

Addressing this research gap, we develop a conceptual framework for a social-ecological transformation that connects the macro and the micro level and helps to bridge process-oriented and structural approaches to transformation. At the macro level, the objectives of inter- and intragenerational justice need to be pursued by challenging the central paradigms that constitute unsustainable trajectories. To make the framework concrete and applicable in practice, we propose a preliminary set of evaluation principles for the micro and meso level that reflect these normative objectives and help to measure the transformative character and transformative impact of change processes. The example of the European Organic Breeding Network illustrates the application of the framework.

An Ecological Economics research that is reflective of its transformative quality in light of the incumbent paradigms can make important contributions to transformation research.

Ecological Economics, Volume 164, October 2019