Quotation Brand, Ulrich, Muraca, Barbara, Pineault, Eric, Sahakian, Marlyne, Schaffartzik, Anke, Novy, Andreas, Streissler, Christoph, Haberl, Helmut, Asara, Viviana, Dietz, Kristina, Lang, Miriam, Kothari, Ashish, Smith, Tone, Spash, Clive L., Brad, Alina, Pichler, Melanie, Plank, Christina, Velegrakis, Giorgos, Jahn, Thomas, Carter, Agela, Huano, Qingzhi, Kallis, Giorgos, Martinez Alier, Joan, Riva, Gabriel, Satgar, Vishwas, Teran Mantovani, Emiliano, Williams, Michelle, Wissen, Markus, Görg, Christoph. 2021. From planetary to societal boundaries: an argument for collectively defined self-limitation. Sustainability: Science, Practice & Policy. 17 (1), 265-292.




The planetary boundaries concept has profoundly changed the vocabulary and representation of global environmental issues. We bring a critical social science perspective to this framework through the notion of societal boundaries and aim to provide a more nuanced understanding of the social nature of thresholds. We start by highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of planetary boundaries from a social science perspective. We then focus on capitalist societies as a heuristic for discussing the expansionary dynamics, power relations, and lock-ins of modern societies that impel highly unsustainable societal relations with nature. While formulating societal boundaries implies a controversial process ‒ based on normative judgments, ethical concerns, and socio-political struggles ‒ it has the potential to offer guidelines for a just, social-ecological transformation. Collective autonomy and the politics of self-limitation are key elements of societal boundaries and are linked to important proposals and pluriverse experiences to integrate well-being and boundaries. The role of the state and propositions for radical alternative approaches to well-being have particular importance. We conclude with reflections on social freedom, defined as the right not to live at others’ expense. Toward the aim of defining boundaries through transdisciplinary and democratic processes, we seek to open a dialogue on these issues.


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Status of publication Published
Affiliation WU
Type of publication Journal article
Journal Sustainability: Science, Practice & Policy
Language English
Title From planetary to societal boundaries: an argument for collectively defined self-limitation
Volume 17
Number 1
Year 2021
Page from 265
Page to 292
Reviewed? Y
URL https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15487733.2021.1940754
DOI https://doi.org/10.1080/15487733.2021.1940754
Open Access Y
Open Access Link https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15487733.2021.1940754


Novy, Andreas (Details)
Asara, Viviana (Former researcher)
Smith Spash, Tone (Former researcher)
Spash, Clive L. (Details)
Brad, Alina (University of Vienna, Austria)
Brand, Ulrich (University of Vienna, Austria)
Carter, Agela (University of Waterloo, Canada)
Dietz, Kristina (University of Kassel, Germany)
Görg, Christoph (University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Austria)
Haberl, Helmut (University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Austria)
Huano, Qingzhi (Peking University, China)
Jahn, Thomas (Institute for Social- Ecological Research, Germany)
Kallis, Giorgos (Universitat Autoonoma de Barcelona, Spain)
Kothari, Ashish (Kalpavriksh and Vikalp Sangam, India)
Lang, Miriam (Universidad Andina Simon Bolivar, Ecuador)
Martinez Alier, Joan (Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, Spain)
Muraca, Barbara (University of Oregon, United States/USA)
Pichler, Melanie (University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Austria)
Pineault, Eric (Université au Quében à Montreal, Canada)
Plank, Christina (University of Vienna, Austria)
Riva, Gabriel (Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
Sahakian, Marlyne (University of Geneva, Switzerland)
Satgar, Vishwas (University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa)
Schaffartzik, Anke (University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Austria)
Streissler, Christoph (Chamber of Labour, Austria)
Teran Mantovani, Emiliano (Universitat Autoonoma de Barcelona, Spain)
Velegrakis, Giorgos (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece)
Williams, Michelle (University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa)
Wissen, Markus (Berlin School of Economics and Law, Germany)
Institute for Multi-Level Governance and Development IN (Details)
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