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HomeTemporal approaches to sustainable development

Temporal approaches to sustainable development

Approches temporelles du développement durable

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Published on Monday, December 11, 2017


How to include in one same analysis the longer time frame of nature and climate evolution within the shorter times of politics, economics or social facts (Bonneuil & Fressoz, 2016) ? Is it possible to “think like a mountain”, in order to take action while reckoning the global and temporal balance of the system, as Aldo Leopold suggested a century ago? Just like studies were made in the last decades about the role of space in the functioning of ecosystems (Wu, 2013), an transdisciplinary approach of temporalities has to be developed in order to better understand how socio-ecosystems work and to anticipate the effects of global change (Wolkovich et al., 2014).



The phrase “développement durable” appeared during the early 2000's, notably in the field of public policies (Krieg-Planque, 2010). A French equivalent of the English “sustainable development”, it underlines in itself its temporal aspects, as the idea is to embrace long-term planning and to take into consideration the living conditions of the future generations. Along with the notions of “generations” and “long-term”, are included the concepts of “emergency” and “immediacy”: the Paris agreement, by drawing up the scale of the changes that man inflicts upon the planet, calls for short and medium-term plans of action, pledged by the governments of participating countries. Greenhouse gas emission levels, pollution of all kinds and the loss of biodiversity (Ceballosa et al., 2017) may mark the beginning of a new geologic era: the anthropocene (Crutzen & Stoermer, 2000), when human activities have become the biggest impacting factor on the Earth's ecosystem. The temporalities of the anthropocene are still being discussed: while some believe it begins with the birth of agriculture or the industrial revolution, a consensus seems to appear around the idea of a “great acceleration” happening during the fifties with the massive use of oil (Möllers et al., 2015; Bonneuil & Fressoz, 2016). This situation increases uncertainties about the future of the planet and of mankind, particularly of those already living in precarious conditions. Mankind is urged to get “quickly” organized in order to better manage the changes it has inititated, to take responsibility as a steward of the land (Stephen et al., 2011) and thus to be able to choose an upcoming trajectory.

Future, generations, short, medium and long-term, emergency, acceleration: this issue will revolve only around contributions handling temporal approaches of actions related to development considered as “sustainable”. Propositions should problematize the temporal dimension with the help of personal empirical research. By questioning the tension that exists between short and long-term perspectives, by questioning the concept of emergency (climate emergency, social emergency, etc.), the point will be to go beyond the bio-systemic approach and involve the four pillars of sustainable development: economic growth, social inclusion, environmental balance and cultures. How to handle the recognition of cultural diversity, educational policies, diffusion of science, freedom of expression, access to information, all from a temporal point of view? To focus on the past, present, future (Chesneaux, 1985) is a way to question the four characteristics of sustainable development. For instance, the respect of present cultures draws a link between the past and the future of societies, between the preservation of traditions and emerging new creativities.

How to include in one same analysis the longer time frame of nature and climate evolution within the shorter times of politics, economics or social facts (Bonneuil & Fressoz, 2016) ? Is it possible to “think like a mountain”, in order to take action while reckoning the global and temporal balance of the system, as Aldo Leopold suggested a century ago? Just like studies were made in the last decades about the role of space in the functioning of ecosystems (Wu, 2013), an transdisciplinary approach of temporalities has to be developed in order to better understand how socio-ecosystems work and to anticipate the effects of global change (Wolkovich et al., 2014).

Political action and transitions

We hear we must act fast, before 2050, perhaps before 2030. Starting from June 2017, the Nature journal has given us three years to reverse the trend of GHG emissions (Figueres, 2017). Very well, but how can political action structure itself within its own temporalities to face short and long-term emergencies (cf. our previous record about “Temporalities and Public Action”, 2014) ? How is it possible to carry out policies in the present time, that take heed of a complete and radical change of paradigm?

How can a policy, relying either on planification or on the conception of scenarios which are, by definition, mere hypothesis, face critical situations, all the while integrating the knowledge and understanding of cycles? How, and relying on what foundation can strategies be built that match the complexity of situations beyond a two-dimensional vision of growth (or ungrowth) and acceleration (or deceleration), therefore based on a linear conception of time? How to draw on environmental, social, economical history and on memory in order to conduct the paradoxically named (to the point of an oxymoron) activity of risk management? How can changes in behaviours and evolutions of systems be identified either as epiphenomenons or as a profound and durable overturning of paradigms?

While these concerns seem to acquire a growing importance in French political action – as seen with the 2015 law on the energetic transition towards green growth, passed by the Ministère de l'Écologie et du développement durable”, recently replaced by the “Ministère de la Transition écologique et solidaire” - the proposed short-termed actions aim to update the current system through technological innovations (electric cars, isolation) but seem to be experiencing difficulties in shifting towards a new, energetically more efficient system, more resilient in the long-term, fully rethinking the organization of space and temporalities (Calthorpe, 2010). The nature and temporalities of policies, as well as the time frames they address regarding sustainable development should therefore be researched. How are the temporalities of policies related to the declared objective of sustainable development?

Perception of temporalities and change in behaviours

Another focus could be the way people receive and incoporate changes of paradigms resulting of policies into their own existence, thus rethinking their standards, priorities, habits, practices and representations – in a nutshell, their way of being in the world, their culture. Thus, habits relevant to a “slow attitude” could be studied within this frame, so could be the promotion of soft urban mobility that cannot go without questioning the speed of contemporary movement. The environmental approach – as in the measure of GHG emissions – meets societal and behavioural approaches. One may take interest in the way the concepts related to temporal ecology, worded by Barbara Adam, William Grossin following the Tutzing conferences, and today by Thierry Paquot, translate into action. According to William Grossin, temporal ecology should aim “at curbing the deterioration of temporal environments of existence and at resolving it”, fighting “unhealthy” time frames, the coerced time of clocks, the artificial times created by the industrial society: this significantly echoes the issues related to sustainable development and suggests that in the field of temporalities, there exists a sustainable vision of temporalities. Sustainable temporalities would be chosen time frames, personal ones, reconciled with nature and opening the possibility of individual and collective well-being.

Also, the possibility of a circular approach of economics, implying for instance the up cycling of waste, may be questioned from an temporality angle. It goes together with changes in behaviours and in the perception of the value of material. This material, vowed to an ephemeral existence (produced, used, disposed of) becomes, in time, a new recoverable valuable ressource. How does this new conscience of slow or sustainable temporalities meet fast or accelerated temporalities? When it comes to mind that a piece of nuclear waste will need a hundred thousand years to lose half of its radiation or that a e-mail takes seconds to travel thousands of miles, doesn't that affect the way we act or the way we understand our present time?

To confront the “longer” temporalities of the world is a recent matter. It's only been since the XVIIIth century and notably Buffon's theories about the age of Earth, and the XIXth century's works by Lamarck of Darwin about evolution, that humankind has been able to understand the temporalities of geological and biological processes. Paradoxically, it's also at this same time of construction of an history of Earth that the use of fossil energies has enabled an unforeseen development of human activity and an artificial acceleration of certain natural phenomenons (rate of extinction of species, GHG emissions), overturning that very same history.

What happens when the changes of paradigm promoted by renewed public action facing a complex and urgent situation meet a change of era towards the anthropocene? Is the change of generation, in a geological sense, something new or just an assessment of the status of man as “master and possessor of nature” as already described by Descartes? Is any policy dedicated to solving emergencies menacing mankind and its environment not a confirmation of its anthropocentrism, and that mankind is dictating its own tempo to nature?

The articles are expected, based on empirical approach, to concentrate on the temporalities of the researched phenomenons (events, political treatment, individual and collective apprehension and action).

Contributions should be relevant to humanities and social science, notably sociology, geography, economy, political science, ecology, history, history of science, history of the environment, urbanism, or experimental science to the extent that individual or political action should be tackled. Pluri-, trans- or interdisciplinary angles are particularly welcome.

Submission of proposals for articles

Authors may submit their proposals to the coordinators of the issue, Natalia Leclerc (Natalia.Leclerc1@univ-brest.fr) and Jérôme Sawtschuk (jerome.sawtschuk@univ-brest.fr)) copying the editorial office of the Journal (temporalites@revues.org).

The submission should include a title, a 5000-character draft in French or in English, the name, contact details and institutional affiliation of the author, and should be sent up

to January 15, 2018.

Authors are invited to take note of our procedures:  http://temporalites.revues.org/3459

The composition of our boards: http://temporalites.revues.org/3458

And our instructions to authors: http://temporalites.revues.org/3462

Planning and deadlines

  • Submission of proposals (5000 characters maximum) : 15 January 2018

  • Reply from coordinators: 19 February 2018
  • Submission of papers (50,000 characters maximum) : 23 April 2018
  • Feedback from the referees: 1 June 2018
  • Submission of revised version: 3 September 2018
  • Submission of final version: 15 October 2018
  • Publication: December 2018


Adam, Barbara, 2001. “The Multiplicity of Times: contributions from the Tutzing time ecology Project”, Time & Society, 10 (1), 349-350.

Audier, Serge, 2017. La Société écologique et ses ennemis, Pour une histoire alternative de l’émancipation, éd. La Découverte.

Bonneuil, C., & Fressoz, J. B., 2016. L'Événement anthropocène. La Terre, l'histoire et nous. Points, 332 p.

Calthorpe, P., 2010. Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change, Washington, DC, Island Press.

Ceballosa, G., Ehrlichb, P. R., Dirzob R., 2017. Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (early edition).

CGLU, 2010. La culture, quatrième pilier du développement durable, 2010, rapport de la CGLU (Cités et gouvernements locaux unis) :
http://www.agenda21culture.net/sites/default/files/files/documents/fr/zz_culture4pilierdd_fra.pdf (consulté le 12 octobre 2017)

Chesneaux Jean, 1985. « L'axe passé/présent/avenir », Espaces Temps, 29. Cet obscur objet de l'histoire. 1. Une force trop tranquille, pp. 13-17.

Comby Jean-Baptiste, 2015. La Question climatique, Genèse et dépolitisation d’un problème public, éd. Raisons d’agir, « Cours et travaux ».

Crutzen, P. J., & Stoermer, E. F., 2000. “Global change newsletter”. The Anthropocene, 41, 17-18.

Figueres, C., Schellnhuber, H. J., Whiteman, G., Rockström, J., Hobley, A., & Rahmstorf, S., 2017. “Three years to safeguard our climate”. Nature, 546 (7660), 593-595.

Grossin, William, 1996. Pour une science des temps. Introduction à l'écologie temporelle, Toulouse, Éditions Octares.

Krieg-Planque, A., 2010. La formule “développement durable” : un opérateur de neutralisation de la conflictualité. Langage et société, (4), 5-29.

Möllers, N., Schwägerl, C., & Trischler, H. (Eds.), 2015. Welcome to the Anthropocene: The Earth in Our Hands. Deutsches Museum Verlag.

Paquot, T., 2014. « Un temps à soi : Pour une écologie existentielle », Esprit, décembre, (12), 18-35. doi : 10.3917/espri.1412.0018.

Steffen, W., Persson, Å., Deutsch, L., Zalasiewicz, J., Williams, M., Richardson, K.,... & Molina, M., 2011. “The Anthropocene: From global change to planetary stewardship”. AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment, 40 (7), 739-761.

Wolkovich, E. M., Cook, B. I., McLauchlan, K. K., & Davies, T. J., 2014. “Temporal ecology in the Anthropocene”. Ecology letters, 17 (11), 1365-1379.

Wu, J., 2013. “Key concepts and research topics in landscape ecology revisited: 30 years after the Allerton Park workshop”, Landscape ecology, 28 (1), 1-11.


  • Monday, January 15, 2018


  • temporalité, anthropocène, développement durable, écologie, action politique, approche temporelle


  • François Théron
    courriel : francois [dot] theron [at] uvsq [dot] fr

Information source

  • François Théron
    courriel : francois [dot] theron [at] uvsq [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Temporal approaches to sustainable development », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Monday, December 11, 2017, https://doi.org/10.58079/z1m

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