Naito, R., J. Zhao and K.M.A. Chan (2022). “An integrative framework for transformative social change: a case in global wildlife trade.” Sustainability Science 17: 171–189. Doi: 10.1007/s11625-021-01081-z
To achieve a sustainable future, it is imperative to transform human actions collectively and underlying social structures. Decades of research in social sciences have offered complementary insights into how such transformations might occur. However, these insights largely remain disjunct and of limited scope, such that strategies for solving global environmental challenges remain elusive. There is a need to integrate approaches focusing on individuals and social structures to understand how individual actions influence and are in turn influenced by social structures and norms. In this paper, we synthesize a range of insights across different schools of thought and integrate them in a novel framework for transformative social change. Our framework explains the relationships among individual behaviors, collective actions, and social structures and helps change agents guide societal transitions toward environmental sustainability. We apply this framework to the global wildlife trade—which presents several distinct challenges of human actions, especially amidst the Covid-19 pandemic—and identify pathways toward transformative change. One key distinction we make is between different individual actions that comprise the practice itself (e.g., buying wildlife products; private action) and those that push for a broader system change in practice (e.g., signaling (dis)approval for wildlife consumption; social-signaling action, and campaigning for policies that end unsustainable wildlife trade; system-changing action). In general, transformative change will require an integrative approach that includes both structural reforms and all three classes of individual action.