PROGRESS IN GEOGRAPHY ›› 2021, Vol. 40 ›› Issue (8): 1430-1438.doi: 10.18306/dlkxjz.2021.08.015

• Reviews • Previous Articles    

Archetype analysis in social-ecological system governance research: Concepts, methods and prospect

GONG Yanqing(), TAN Rong*()   

  1. School of Public Affairs, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou 310012, China
  • Received:2020-11-17 Revised:2021-05-12 Online:2021-08-28 Published:2021-10-28
  • Contact: TAN Rong;
  • Supported by:
    Key Project of Philosophy and Social Science by Ministry of Education(20JZD013)


A key challenge of social-ecological system governance is to effectively accumulate and transfer successful strategies across heterogeneous contexts. The context-dependence of social-ecological dynamics makes it extremely difficult to draw general conclusions about the determinants of effective governance. Generic design factors can be too abstract to be applied to concrete problems because every case is different. Archetype analysis is a particularly salient approach in this regard that helps researchers to understand and compare patterns of (un)sustainability in heterogeneous cases. This article clarifies the concept and characteristics of archetype, expounds on the significance of archetype analysis, and reviews the progress of archetype analysis in the key research fields of social-ecological system governance. The result reveals that: 1) Archetype analysis generally investigates recurrent patterns of the phenomenon of interest at an intermediate level of abstraction to identify multiple models that explain the phenomenon under specific conditions. 2) Archetype analysis is best conceived as a methodological approach, rather than a particular method, framework, or theory. 3) Archetype analysis can promote the accumulation and transfer of case study knowledge, is compatibility with multiple research methods, and can achieve a certain degree of predictability in social-ecological system governance. 4) Archetype analysis is based on "type-subtype" multi-level analysis, which helps to find the "strong" causality of the complex social-ecological system. 5) Archetype is not only the result of the research but also the starting point of the research. The test, modification, improvement, and validation of the archetype are also an important direction of future research.

Key words: social-ecological systems, archetype analysis, governance, complexity, casual explanation