Eyster et al., Relational thinking

Eyster, H.N., T. Satterfield and K.M.A. Chan (2023). “Empirical examples demonstrate how relational thinking might enrich science and practice.” People and Nature 5(2): 455–469. Doi: 10.1002/pan3.10453

Interdependent relationships among humans and nature often go overlooked, delaying better environmental, social and public health outcomes. Emerging approaches have emphasized thinking through relationships, which we call ‘relational thinking’. Threads of relational thinking have matured in areas such as anthropology and Indigenous scholarship, and interest is growing across many disciplines. Welcoming this new cadre of relational thinkers requires a more broadly accessible synthesis. Sustainability scholars have begun to overcome these barriers with high-level overviews and broad calls to adopt relational thinking. This literature has investigated the conceptual underpinnings of relational thinking, but the concrete, empirical benefits of relational thinking for understanding human–natural systems remain obscure. Here, we introduce a wide range of accessible empirical examples to demonstrate the potential for relational thinking to illuminate diverse coupled human-and-natural systems. We complement these examples with an overview of the theory behind relational thinking. We use these empirical examples to argue that some conventional methods are consistent with relational thinking, particularly when accompanied by deliberation and flexibility about which relationships to target, why, and how.