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“Sustainable Development” as Collective Surge

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The purpose of this article is to examine a surge in the sciences surrounding the use of the concept of sustainable development. Data come from the annual frequencies of publications in various disciplines that use the concept of sustainable development as well as from a content analysis of documents. The article concludes that the surge was characterized by the use by scientists of established concepts in a new way, a form of cultural emergence; a prevailing locus of interaction revolving around a professional ideology; the prevalence of the emotions of fear and hope of deliverance from the threat; and an international arena of discourse occurring over a period of years and bounded by class-professional identities. The article demonstrates that a newer understanding of fads as collective surges in the sociology specialty area of collective behavior helps describe the use in the sciences of the concept of sustainable development during the late 1980s and 1990s. The surge is relatively short-lived, coterminous with the use of different meanings and practices of sustainable development. It cannot be understood as a superficial, odd, inconsequential, or frivolous event. Rather, it had important, lasting consequences in a number of areas, from economic and social development to professions.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Delaware

Publication date: 2002-03-01

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