Sustainable Futures: An Agenda for Action

Published on 1 June 2021

Long before the pandemic, economies across the world were in trouble, with growth slowing across the board. This downturn coincided with growing inequality and social exclusion. Rising political dissatisfaction with ruling elites fuelled the rise of populism. Add to this the alarming environmental emergency and few can deny we live in a time of multiple sustainability crises.

While this conclusion can lead to despair, in this broad-ranging book Raphael Kaplinsky, a leading development policy analyst, argues that the future is not necessarily bleak. Interrogating the causes and nature of the systemic crises we are living through, he shows how the challenges which we now face mirror previous historical epochs, in which dominant ‘techno-economic’ paradigms flourish, mature and run into crisis. In each case, decisive action is required to move to a more economically and socially sustainable world. In our time, we are witnessing the exhaustion of the Mass Production paradigm. How we herald and manage the transition to the next paradigm – that of Information and Communications Technologies – will determine our capacity to build a more prosperous, equitable and environmentally sustainable world. This book sets out an integrated agenda for action by multiple stakeholders to achieve this end.

Table of contents

Chapter 1: A Fork in the Road

Chapter 2: The Rise and Fall of the Mass Production Economy

Chapter 3: The Bumpy Ride to Social Decay

Chapter 4: The Collapse of Environmental Sustainability

Chapter 5: Mass Production Runs out of Steam

Chapter 6: Information and Communication Technologies: The Motor of the New Paradigm

Chapter 7: Transformative Change in Practice

Chapter 8: What’s to be Done?

Chapter 9: Who Will Do It? Making Change Happen

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‘A compelling read, brilliantly written and bubbling with thought-provoking ideas, experience and outlines for the future.’
Sir Richard Jolly, former Assistant Secretary-General of the UN​.

‘Faced with what some describe as extinction-level threats, Kaplinsky dares to say this is no time to despair. With his considerable expertise as a developmental economist, he shows that trying to tick off each problem as it comes along is doomed to failure. Part history, part manifesto, Sustainable Futures calls for an integrated approach which brings together the resources of government and the power of the people. Those who want to avoid the mistakes of the past and re-make our future should read this book.’
George Alagiah, BBC Journalist and Author.

‘Dedicated to “all the grandchildren”, Sustainable Futures is written in the hope of contributing to a pathway out of the current dreadful state of our world and into a sustainable future for them. Kaplinsky provides a theoretical and conceptual framework to better understand the current crises and to extract lessons for the future from epochal moments in history and sets out an ambitious agenda for change. He has indeed provided a compelling and hopeful message “for the grandchildren”.’
Keith Bezanson, former President of Canada’s International Development Research Centre.

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Cite this publication

Kaplinsky, R. (2021) Sustainable Futures: An Agenda for Action, London: John Wiley and Son


Raphael Kaplinsky

Emeritus Fellow

Publication details

published by
John Wiley and Sons


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