Sustainable Development Within Knowledge Democracies: An Emerging Governance Problem

  • Roeland Jaap in ’t VeldEmail author


Sustainable development is all over the place. The concept is broad and vague. The vagueness of the concept has a Janus face. It has been called a unifying concept because its vagueness breeds a consensus that might be utilised later on. Vagueness is an asset if it triggers action. On the other hand, if sustainable development is everything, maybe it is nothing… Although – or maybe because – the concept is vague, it has overwhelming appeal on political agendas, programmes and dialogues. The precautionary principle is the nucleus of a powerful moral imperative. The multidimensional nature of the concept, covering ecological, economic and social aspects of change relates to our needs for integration. Sustainable development as a concept bears a persuasive character. Actors of all kinds may contribute to it, citizens, enterprises, NGOs, governments et cetera.

Thinking about the governance of sustainable development leads us to the recognition of a multi-level, multi-scale, multi-disciplinary character of the problematique. Moreover, the term development refers to change, to transitions and transformations. Governance of sustainable development therefore has to cope with complex dynamics. This chapter deals with the specific consequences of sustainability governance inside knowledge democracies. The concept of knowledge democracy sheds new light on the emerging relationships between politics, media and science. It shows how the emergence of participatory democracy besides representative democracy, the revolutionary rise of social media besides corporate media, the emergence of transdisciplinary trajectories besides classical disciplinary science lead to explosions of complex interactions. We will digress upon the variety of possible future variants of knowledge democracies, quiet and turbulent ones, in relation to the quest for sustainable development. Our main conclusion will be that strategies for sustainability may vary with the types of knowledge democracies around.


Sustainable Development Precautionary Principle Political Agenda Wicked Problem Representative Democracy 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I would like to thank the TransGov team and John Grin for their useful comments on earlier versions of this Chapter.

Open Access. This chapter is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.


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Open Access. This chapter is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.LeiderdorpNetherlands

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