Crisis Science for Sustainability


  • John Kineman


crisis science, oil spills, action research, system sustainability, complexity, holistic thought


Sustainability science requires interdisciplinary and even trans-disciplinary frameworks for research in order to shift from disciplinary and sectorial studies to more appropriate ways of understanding whole system sustainability. While this shift is difficult to achieve within current traditions, an actual crisis seems to trigger many of the characteristics that would also be appropriate for holistic science. Disciplinary research tends to be the norm when we have a carefully planned research agenda and well-posed questions; but when we don’t know the questions, as is the case in a crisis, we instinctively invoke trans-disciplinary modes of learning. We may thus learn a great deal about system sustainability and system research by looking at the characteristics of ‘crisis science’. Here we review personal experience from scientific responses to oil spills in the 1970's.We suggest a general framework in terms of R-Theory (Kineman, 2012), which is a relational holon theory based on four archetypal domains corresponding to Aristotle’s general explanatory hierarchy and many other similar frameworks that have been developed separately in various disciplines and perennial philosophy. We propose general development of “Crisis Science” as a complex systems research field that has strong parallels with holistic paradigms many are struggling to establish in ecology and environmental management. Not only is there a strong theoretical affinity between these two domains, but by promoting Crisis Science publically and in mainstream programs, funding may be more easily obtained for critical integrated research that supports both purposes. As part of a Crisis Science research program it is necessary to train between crisis responses, and shared principles and methods are possible across many holistic problems we face otherwise in anticipation of possible crises. Pursued together, Crisis Science and Holistic Science can establish the Anticipatory capacity we need to avoid crises.

Author Biography

John Kineman

Senior Research Scientist Wessman Research Group Cooperative Institute for Research in the Environmental Sciences



How to Cite

Kineman, J. (2016). Crisis Science for Sustainability. Proceedings of the 59th Annual Meeting of the ISSS - 2015 Berlin, Germany, 1(1). Retrieved from