Paradigm Change or Old wine in new bottles? Debating and reformulating SDGs – an experiment


“This paper contains the results of an experiment conducted at the Institute of Social Anthropology at the University of Bern, Switzerland, in a participatory seminar during the autumn semester of 2016. The seminar invited students in social anthropology and human geography (BA students from semester 5 onwards, as well as MA students) to reflect on the formulation of the United Nation’s (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their respective targets. The overall aim was to analyse the concepts by examining literature regarding issues of sustainable development in the fields of social anthropology and human geography (see literature list at the end of the paper). Inputs were gathered from more recent studies concerning the ways in which the SDGs mirror actual debates and issues regarding social-ecological relations in these disciplines. A particular question concerned whether SDGs, understood from a largely qualitative research perspective and based on concrete case studies, represent a real paradigm shift that is congruent with local realities, or if instead SDGs may be considered “old wine in new bottles?” as phrased in the title of the seminar.”

See details of the working paper here.


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