“Post-normal” sustainability technologies?

Frame and Brown published an interesting and intriguing paper in Ecological Economics 65(2008). The paper is titled “Developing post-normal technologies for sustainability“. The paer builds on the concept of “post-normal” science (a contrast with Kunh’s idea of normal science). The idea of post-normal science is that of dealing with problems with a great importance and trascendence, but that are surrounded by a lot of uncertainty, so that current scientific knowledge appears to be “not enough”. It appears to be not a a substitute of a more traditional account of science, but an extension for problems that can not wait to be addressed but for which a traditional scientific or engineering treatment is currently non feasible or incomplete. These are clearly the class of most challenging problems in sustainability science.

For Frame and Brown, post-normal sustainability technologies (PNST) are a kind of instrument of consensus reaching or knowledge management. More concretely:

[…] the current mismatch between the rhetoric of sustainability and actual implementation of sustainability principles can be addressed by post-normal sustainability technologies (PNSTs). These work with the complexity and uncertainty by enlisting stakeholders with diverse perspectives and multiple capacities in the co-production of sustainability know-how in what we term multi-actor heuristics.

The paper provides a detailed account and references for PNSTs, which encompass both classical scientific elements plus deliberation and participation within a multi-perspective framework. From that viewpoint, PNSTs are more collaborative tools than engineering processes, however they provide the required framework to deal with “wicked problems” and eventually reach at “clumsy solutions”.


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