Methodological development for capturing qualitative values in spatial maritime planning

Project: Other

Research areas and keywords

UKÄ subject classification

  • Human Geography
  • Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)
  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary



The purpose of this project is theoretical and methodological development in social science sustainability research with special reference to maritime spatial planning. We address the potential of the Swedish geographer Torsten Hägerstrand’s (1916-2004) time-geography as a social theory. This is done by combining time-geography as a philosophical perspective – and thus a method of generating questions – with economic sociology and valuation theory to examine the multitude of values associated with a finite resource. We then address recent calls for social theory input to the transdisciplinary field of sustainability science by testing how our results can be put to hands-on use in cooperation with environmental governance stakeholders.

Sweden is for the first time in the process to establish maritime spatial planning. This is a practice of tree-dimensional cartography (at, above and below the surface of the sea) to illustrate and manage trade-offs between different interests in how marine resources should be exploited and protected. For operational purposes we isolate one particular issue in maritime spatial planning: fisheries in Öresund (the Swedish-Danish strait between Trelleborg and Båstad in Southern Sweden). Here, different fisheries compete for a severely limited fish resource: professional, recreational, subsistence and tour boat fisheries. The different fisheries are surrounded by time-space restrictions that regulate the fisheries in relation to each other and to the fish resource. Each fishery carries sets of values in relation to different economies and ecosystem services. We demonstrate empirically how incommensurable values are and could be played out and regulated in relation to each other.

Maritime spatial planning is both an environmental governance practice and a field of research that is the almost exclusive domain of the natural sciences and to some extent economics, relying on measurability and commensurability between different values. However, environmental authorities have begun to appreciate the importance of non-measurable values, particularly in relation to ecosystem services. What we propose has potential to consider different values (monetary, financial, social, cultural, recreational, environmental, historical, emotional, legislative) in a qualitative and systematic way. We will test the potential of time-geography and economic sociology in a participatory research process in cooperation with the Skåne County Administrative Board and coastal municipalities. For the purposes of our research design, we thus regard Öresund as a real-life laboratory for giving qualitative, social science environmental research input to an on-going and increasingly critical natural resource management process.

Despite calls for over a decade to realize time-geography’s potential as a social theory, this task is far from straightforward. In this project, we explore time-geography as a philosophical perspective and as a theoretical framework for a conceptual understanding of both the landscape and agency.

The particular philosophy of time-geography that we emphasize is its explicit environmental ethics. Hägerstrand himself repeatedly stressed how the time-geographical apparatus holds the power to generate questions of wise resource use and the possible consequences of alternative resource management projects. From a sustainability perspective, time-geography is normative in its insistence on constraints and finitude concerning society-environment interactions. This normativity corresponds to developments within research for societal change towards sustainability. A recent review has argued for the urgent need for second order sustainability research, that is, research that actively aims to change society ‘from within’ by means of the actual research process, rather than studying society from ‘the outside’ and then giving impartial advice to decision-makers. In the review, we list ten essentials for achieving this: (1) a focus on transformations towards low-carbon, resilient living; (2) focus on solution processes; (3) focus on ‘how to’ practical knowledge; (4) approach research as occurring from within; (5) work with normative aspects; (6) seek to transcend current thinking and approaches; (7) take a multi-faceted approach to understand and shape change; (8) acknowledge the value of alternative roles of researchers; (9) encourage second-order experimentation and change; and (10) be reflexive.

For methodological state-of-the-art, we use the ten essentials as a theory of research design, and a bridge between theory and methodology. We pay special attention to essentials 5, 7, 8 and 10 since (a) maritime spatial planning is a normative issue (as all sustainability problems and solutions), (b) we seek to evidence the usefulness of a social science epistemology in transdisciplinary sustainability research, (c) our roles as researchers are embedded in a process of actual change through a participatory research design, and (d) through the research design, we facilitate results-based reflection among practitioners.

Crucial aspects of such a social science sustainability research design are the systematic incorporation of non-academic knowledge through participatory research processes and drastically increased appreciation of social science epistemologies in articulating and solving real-world sustainability problems. In this, the proposed project is a transdisciplinary endeavor.

We aim for an academic practice where close cooperation with the field is integrated in the research process. It actualizes issues concerning the legitimacy of different epistemologies and the politics of researching for social change. This is a crucial issue for the social sciences. Despite claims to urgent social change, much sustainability research has developed in isolation from social theory. Without social theory, important principles in sustainability research – in particular learning, communication and knowledge sharing among stakeholders – are not fully contextualized and understood. Another problem resulting from weak ties to social theory in sustainability research is a focus on measurability and a reduction of social complexity.
Effective start/end date2019/01/012022/12/31


Related activities

Hultman, J. (Organiser), Säwe, F. (Organiser)
2018 Nov 15

Activity: Participating in or organising an eventOrganisation of conference

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