Sustainability Transitions


Sustainability Transitions Specialisation | Become a Sustainability Leader

Interdisciplinary Sustainability Transitions MA programme offered in collaboration with the DIT (Design, Impact Transition) Institute

The master specialisation "Sustainability Transitions" is a transdisciplinary track within the ESPhil MA Philosophy Now. This track is open for students from all educational backgrounds who have finished their bachelor’s programmes. Only a limited number of spots are available for this MA specialisation.

The "Sustainability Transitions" programme includes a tailored introduction course where you are confronted with the limits of your own disciplinary background and where you will be introduced to the programme’s content with key lectures on (un)sustainability transitions, design workshops and field visits. The specialisation track is composed of the cluster "Sustainability Transitions" and 3 courses from the cluster "Environment, Life and Technology"(concurrent in blocks 2, 3, and 4). Furthermore, students will take the "Transdisciplinarity and Public Issues" or "Philosophy and Public Policy" specialisations towards the end of the MA, and write a thesis. 

Note: The courses of the cluster "Sustainability Transitions" can also be followed separately by EUR students from other master programmes. 

Why study this programme?

The last decade’s crises on various fronts – including the corona pandemic – have crystallized the problems of unsustainability and environmental injustice as normative rather than merely scientific. Knowing what to do is simply not enough; we know intellectually the steps we have to take, but the will has yet to materialize, and the necessary sacrifices to prevent even greater tragedy have not been seriously recognized and acted upon. Technical ingenuity has not optimized our priorities or fundamentally rearranged dysfunctional power structures. To confront the challenge of transitioning to sustainability along ecological and social dimensions requires changing perspectives - designing society differently. But how to achieve this, given current incentives to maintain unsustainable status quos? 

Unsustainability in all its forms - from climate crisis to biodiversity loss, industry-fueled chronic disease to subsidies for fossil fuels leading to environmental injustice exacerbating air pollution and asthma - requires a swift transition on a scale unseen in history, according to scientific consensus. The global problems we face demand global solutions, but often policy and norm change is a trickle-up process, arising in local action.

This MA programme equips students with the skills necessary to conceive and achieve sustainability transitions. Acquiring perspectives and methods to understand the main drivers of unsustainability will allow graduates to intervene in the most pressing issues facing society currently. This unique programme, combining the analytical and ethical power of philosophy with design thinking and systems theory, students will examine the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and backcast just and sustainable futures to chart a course to achieve them. Core issues such as ecosystem degradation, entrenched interests, and the efficacy of environmental justice movements will be dissected and examined. Rather than a technocratic approach - which might overlook the crucial relevance of social psychology in helping determine how we arrived at this historical moment - this philosophical approach to sustainability addresses real-world case studies and dilemmas to piece together the patterns of resilience necessary for just transitions to achieve an equitable and sustainable society. This focus on transformative change means creatively attending to the type of non-linear processes comprising leadership and social evolution. Based in philosophy but working transdisciplinarily to integrate lessons ranging from the natural sciences to social psychology, Sustainability Transitions engages with society as the design process it is. In analyzing the principals of design, this MA encourages attentive experimentation with social organization to equitably and sustainably suit the needs of people, place, and planet

Sustainability Transitions Specialisation Track | Conceive and Achieve Just Futures

Application, Admission and Deadlines

Enrolling for the Sustainability Transitions Specialisation Track

Students can register for the specialisation track by registering for the MA Philosophy via the button on the top of the page. You should also enroll for the MA Philosophy in Studielink. Because this is a brand-new programme, it is currently not possible to indicate your choice for the specialisation within the Studielink environment. Therefore, we ask students who wish to register for the specialisation track, in addition to their registration via Studielink, to let us know via the button on the top of the page. You will receive an email with further instructions.

Your application process must be finalised by the 20th of August.


Registering for one or more courses as electives

As an EUR student you may take all courses that belong to the Sustainability Transitions Cluster as electives (see Curriculum). There is no limit to the number of electives that you may take. Whether you can include the elective course(s) in your own exam programme depends on your faculty. We recommend checking this with the examination board of your own faculty.

However, as an EUR student you are more than welcome to take any of the Sustainability Transitions courses, without having to pay any additional tuition fee.
Achieving and conceiving just futures are worthwhile whether included in your programme or as an extracurricular activity.

You can find the courses in the course guide. The course guide will be published on July 15th.

For more information on how to enroll for individual courses, please visit

Admission requirements

 Students can choose the ‘Sustainability Transitions’ specialisation track or elective courses when they have:

A. successfully completed any EUR BA programme
B. have sufficient proficiency in English

For a more detailed overview of all requirements, please see our Course and Examination Regulation 2021-2022 (to be published by the end of July)

If you have any questions about enrolling, admission, or deadlines, please contact our student officer

Info Session Sustainability Transitions

Can we rethink our society and economy by uncovering historical path-dependencies and unsustainable cultures, structures and practices? In this master we bring together inspired academics that challenge you and themselves to push the boundaries of disciplines, knowledge and understanding in order to answer complex questions.

Chat with our students and learn more about studying philosophy

Sustainability Transitions Courses

Society has looked to technology to solve our problems, but like Goethe’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice, this has not freed ourself from unsustainability, but further entrenched it. This intake course examines the core assumptions that have gotten us to a crisis point. We examine the social, psychological, and cultural components and blocks to sustainable transitions, and help students untangle their own assumptions  and inquire into their own mindsets around these issues. This will include field visits to dumps, climate change compromised dikes, and other scenes of civilizational contradictions. Students will be introduced also to the principles of design (materially as well as relationally) to critically assess social and built environment agreements and decisions.  

Sustainable Transitions require recalibrating what forms of knowledge we take to be most important. Grounded in philosophy of science and philosophy of social science, this course asks: What epistemic conditions are not fully disclosed in current justifications for our unsustainable systems? From a design perspective, what role did theologies, concepts of nature (and the accompanying fallacies), and historical power relations play in minting the current competitive industrial and nation-state models? What effects did the theories of thinkers such as Malthus, Descartes, Locke, and Hobbes have on assembling zero-sum games between human flourishing and the flourishing of other organisms? And finally, what is systems thinking, and how do the different waves of systems theory (such as cybernetics) offer tools which have been taken up by fields as diverse as psychology and management to provide methods to reexamine what we are doing as a society and individuals at every level, and choose differently?

This course is taught by the faculty members and associates of the Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity Initiative, and focuses on three bundled themes, (a)  Sustainable Transitions in Finance, (b)  Sustainable Cities, and  (c) Sustainable Practices in Food and Medicine. As the most powerful sector currently, understanding how the financial sector drives unsustainability, and how unlikely partnerships between hedge fund managers and environmentalists can drive massive positive impact towards greater sustainability, deserves understanding. Urban systems and the choice of how to urbanize also drive (un)sustainability as more than half the world lives in cities, and currently the vast majority of natural resources get funneled to urban centers. Finally, how we get our food and what comprises our medicines is one of the most practical ways in which we address sustainability and interface with natural systems, and new EU laws (such as Farm2Fork) aim to allow more circular and ecological regional economies for these essential products. Lectures from practitioners will be bookended by group exercises and discussions of how these societal elements of sustainability transitions fit to form a larger template for social change. 

The methods of sustainability transitions are multiple, and mutually supportive. This course will introduce students to how to take multi-level perspectives, learn the fundamentals of transition management, gain facility with the “X-curve model” to determine where in particular transition one is, map out and take into account multi-actor perspectives, understand the process of how social (urban) experiments in social design get institutionalized, and how the “capacities model” of social change can focus on creating resilience. Students will have the opportunity to critically engage with the Chief Resiliency Officer of the City of Rotterdam, for example, and learn about the different problems (e.g., reform versus restructuring) and crucial opportunities governing sustainability transition encounters. During this course, students will be encouraged to form peer-learning groups of 4 students to participate in reflection and peer learning.

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