Scenarios in society, society in scenarios: Toward a social scientific analysis of storyline-driven environmental modeling

Yaakov Garb, Simone Pulver, Stacy Vandeveer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


Scenario analysis, an approach to thinking about alternative futures based on storyline-driven modeling, has become increasingly common and important in attempts to understand and respond to the impacts of human activities on natural systems at a variety of scales. The construction of scenarios is a fundamentally social activity, yet social scientific perspectives have rarely been brought to bear on it. Indeed, there is a growing imbalance between the increasing technical sophistication of the modeling elements of scenarios and the continued simplicity of our understanding of the social origins, linkages, and implications of the narratives to which they are coupled. Drawing on conceptual and methodological tools from science and technology studies, sociology and political science, we offer an overview of what a social scientific analysis of scenarios might include. In particular, we explore both how scenarios intervene in social microscaleand macroscale contexts and how aspects of such contexts are embedded in scenarios, often implicitly. Analyzing the social 'work' of scenarios (i) can enhance the understanding of scenario developers and modeling practitioners of the knowledge production processes in which they participate and (ii) can improve the utility of scenario products as decision-support tools to actual, rather than imagined, decision-makers.

Original languageEnglish
Article number045015
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Climate change
  • Global environmental assessment
  • Global models
  • Modeling
  • Policy
  • Political science
  • Scenarios
  • Science and society
  • Science and technology studies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science (all)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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