Concrete utopianism in integrated assessment models: Discovering the philosophy of the shared socioeconomic pathways

Gillian Joanne Foster

Publication: Scientific journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


The Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs) are at the forefront of climate change science today. As an influential methodology and method, the SSPs guide the framing of numerous climate change research questions and how these are investigated. Although the SSPs were developed by an interdisciplinary group of scientists in a well-documented process, there is no apparent consensus in the literature that answers the question, “What is the philosophy of science behind the SSPs?” To investigate, the paper applies a systematic thematic qualitative content analysis to the dataset of published papers that establish the rules and expectations for using the SSPs. The research determines that there is no obvious and concise statement on the epistemological and ontological foundation of the SSPs. However, based on the evidence identified in the dataset, SSPs are implicitly, though not explicitly, consistent with a critical realist and concrete utopian philosophy as coined by Roy Bhaskar. This is the first paper to discuss the philosophical underpinning of the SSPs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1 - 13
JournalEnergy Research & Social Science
Issue number10153
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Austrian Classification of Fields of Science and Technology (ÖFOS)

  • 211908 Energy research
  • 201128 Sustainable building
  • 207106 Renewable energy
  • 401905 Renewable resources
  • 405004 Sustainable agriculture
  • 502022 Sustainable economics
  • 509 not use (legacy)
  • 105904 Environmental research


  • Climate change science
  • Critical realism
  • Philosophy of science
  • Shared socioeconomic pathways

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