Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability (STEPS) Centre

The ESRC STEPS (Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability) Centre carries out interdisciplinary global research uniting development studies with science and technology studies to reduce poverty and bring about social justice.

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The STEPS Centre is hosted in the UK by the Institute of Development Studies and the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex. Its main funding is from the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council.

STEPS works as part of a Global Consortium with hubs in Africa, China, Europe, Latin America, North America and South Asia. 

The centre aims to:

  • Address global challenges through interdisciplinary research projects which bring together development studies and science and technology studies
  • Develop a theoretical pathways approach to understanding interactions between social, technological and environmental dynamics in diverse local conditions
  • Link new theories with practical solutions by devising a suite of tools and methods to create more sustainable, socially just and favourable conditions for the poor
  • Influence policy and generate new debate by engaging with diverse local and global audiences to help make change happen
  • Train a new generation of junior researchers, Masters’ students, PhD students and postdoctoral fellows in the STEPS Centre’s concepts, methods and approaches.
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‘Seeing’ Conflicts at the Margins: Understanding Community Experiences Through Social Research and Digital Narrative in Kenya and Madagascar

In a context of unprecedented investment in natural resource developments, this project bridges the social sciences, the humanities and community-based participatory research to ask how different ‘communities’ of actors ‘see’ and experience resource conflicts in Kenya and Madagascar. We use social science alongside a variety of participatory multimedia methods to open up conflict research to more diverse framings and voices, which can offer new insights on the drivers of resource conflict and pathways to peace. More details

Groundwater Futures in Sub-Saharan Africa (GroFutures)

GroFutures is a 4-year interdisciplinary research project aiming to develop the scientific basis and participatory management processes by which groundwater resources can be used sustainably for poverty alleviation in Sub-Saharan Africa. More details

Changing health and welfare in China and the UK

The project looks at the changing role of state and non-government actors in providing social services in China’s rapidly evolving welfare regime, and aims to promote mutual learning between officials and researchers in China and the UK. Despite historical, social and institutional differences, there is a degree of similarity in strategies emerging. More details

Transitions to Agroecological Food Systems

This project will examine potential pathways for transitioning to more sustainable food systems in order to contribute to improved ecological, economic, social and nutritional outcomes. More details

Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability (STEPS) Centre

The STEPS Centre is an interdisciplinary global research and policy engagement hub, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. It aims to develop a new approach to understanding, action and communication on sustainability and development. More details

Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium

A STEPS-led consortium of researchers aiming to advance understanding of the connections between disease and environment in Africa, focusing on animal-to-human disease transmission.. More details

Market-Based Mangrove Afforestation and Reforestation in Kenya and India

This study aims to understand and compare processes and relationships associated with the ‘marketization of nature’ – how nature-based commodities and markets for trading them are brought into being – in the context of mangrove afforestation, reforestation and restoration projects in Kenya and India. More details


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Open and Collaborative Developments

STEPS Working Paper 98 (2017)

Experimentation with radically open and collaborative ways of producing knowledge and material artefacts can be found everywhere, from the free/libre and open-source software movement to citizen science initiatives, and from community-based fabrication laboratories and makerspaces to the production of open-source scientific hardware. More details

STEPS Working Paper cover

Configurations of Agency and Power in the Academic Discourse on the Green Revolution in East Africa

Working Paper by Saurabh Arora on the representations of 'agency' in human and non-human actors (for example, governments, scientists and technologies) in literature on the Green Revolution in East Africa. The author also explores what is masked or hidden by the way these agents are represented. More details

Agronomy for Development book cover

Agronomy for Development: The Politics of Knowledge in Agricultural Research

Over the last decade there has been renewed interest in food security and the state of the global food system. Population growth, climate change and food price spikes have combined to focus new attention on the technologies and institutions that underpin the production and consumption of food that is varied, nutritious and safe. More details

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Emancipatory Rural Politics: Confronting Authoritarian Populism

Journal of Peasant Studies Forum on: Authoritarian Populism and the Rural World (2017)

Academic paper exploring the rise of authoritarian politics around the world, and how it relates to rural areas. More details

Non-IDS publication

Agronomy for Development: The Politics Of Knowledge in Agricultural Research

Over the last decade there has been renewed interest in food security and the state of the global food system. More details

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Cultivating Sustainable Developments in Makerspaces

In October 2015, we convened a workshop for 80 researchers and practitioners involved in makerspaces in Europe. Em outubro de 2915, organizamos uma oficina para 80 pesquisadores e praticantes envolvidos em makerspaces na Europa. More details

Non-IDS publication

Linking Well-Being with Cultural Revitalization for Greater Cognitive Justice in Conservation: Lessons from Venezuela in Canaima National Park

Across the globe, conservation policies have often suppressed nonscientific forms of knowledge and ways of knowing nature, along with the social practices of the groups that are informed by such knowledge. More details

Non-IDS publication

New Innovation Approaches to Support the Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development puts forward a broad and ambitious agenda for global action on sustainable development. More details

Non-IDS publication

Freebook: Pathways to Sustainable Agriculture

This is a Free-book available from the publisher to download. It draws on four books which address three themes central to understanding how pathways emerge in agriculture, and how sustainability, is or indeed is not, generated. More details

This is the cover to the book, 'Pathways to Sustainable Agriculture'

Pathways to Sustainable Agriculture

This free book highlights some of the major findings that have emerged over the last decade of the STEPS Centre’s research on sustainable agriculture. More details

Non-IDS publication

Sustainability in Turbulent Times: Lessons from the Nexus Network for Supporting Transdisciplinary Research

The report gives a review of what the Nexus Network has achieved over its three year lifetime, and also draws out several recommendations for UK Research and Innovation, as it looks to foster more interdisciplinary research in environmental and other challenge areas. More details

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Sustainable Energy for All: Innovation, Technology and Pro-Poor Green Transformations

Despite decades of effort and billions of dollars spent, two thirds of people in sub-Saharan Africa still lack access to electricity, a vital pre-cursor to economic development and poverty reduction. More details

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Why Peri-Urban Ecosystem Services Matter For Urban Policy

This briefing draws on recent research to show how people benefit from ecoystems in and around cities, and how these benefits can be integrated into urban planning and policy. More details

Non-IDS publication

Opinion: Urban Resilience Efforts Must Consider Social and Political Forces

Environmental disasters, ranging from catastrophic floods to extreme temperatures, have caused more than 30,000 deaths per year and more than US$ 250–300 billion a year in economic losses, globally, between 1995 and 2015. More details

Teaser image for Transforming Governance In Telecoupled Food Systems

Transforming Governance In Telecoupled Food Systems

Telecoupling: A New Frontier for Global Sustainability 22.4 (2017)

In this paper we analyse how new actors, interests, and resources become salient to food system governance and how the domain of food system governance transforms as a result. More details

What Can Promote Access to Land for Agroecological Farming in the UK? Findings from Participatory Research and Deliberation as part of the Transitions to Agroecological Food Systems Project

Access to land has long been a key barrier to new entrants to farming and has become more difficult in the last decade or so. In order to address these land access challenges, the panel discussed the potentials of both (a) working within the existing system (i.e. navigating existing policies, regulations and institutions), and (b) working to change the system (i.e. revising or introducing new policies, regulations and institutions). More details

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The Political Economy for Low-carbon Energy Transition in China: Towards a New Policy Paradigm?

New Political Economy (2017)

China has become the leading country to develop wind and solar energy industries. By presenting the institutional arrangement and interest constellations of China’s regulatory system of renewable energy sectors, this paper argues that the reasons for China’s swift expansion of wind and solar energy investment go beyond the notion of a state-led model. More details

What Can Promote Access to Land for Agroecological Farming in the UK? Findings from Participatory Research and Deliberation as part of the Transitions to Agroecological Food Systems Project

Access to land has long been a key barrier to new entrants to farming and has become more difficult in the last decade or so. In order to address these land access challenges, the panel discussed the potentials of both (a) working within the existing system (i.e. navigating existing policies, regulations and institutions), and (b) working to change the system (i.e. revising or introducing new policies, regulations and institutions). More details

Non-IDS publication

Adapting To Risk And Perpetuating Poverty: Household’s Strategies For Managing Flood Risk And Water Scarcity In Mexico City

Adaptation is typically conceived uniquely in positive terms, however for some populations, investments in risk management can entail significant tradeoffs. More details

Non-IDS publication

Solar PV And Solar Water Heaters In China: Different Pathways To Low Carbon Energy

This review paper examines pathways towards solar energy in China by examining two different solar energy technologies, namely solar photovoltaic (PV) and solar water heaters (SWH). More details