Sustainable Development in the New Economy: Risk, Vulnerability, and Eco-Social Justice


  • JoAnn Jaffe
  • Michael Gertler


Sustainable development continues to be a key concept for social scientists and planners concerned with eco-friendly development. We argue that sustainable development should be conceptualized as the progressive development of social processes that promote reflexive, radical democracy and the equitable sharing of ecological, economic and social costs and benefits, rather than as a technocratic solution, end-state or equilibrium. In the context of the New Economy and the increasing dominance of internet-based information, new kinds of risk are produced. In our view, information and communication technologies (ICT) and growing gaps in terms of digital access, application, and control are significant new generators of risk for digitally disenfranchised populations. This includes the risks associated with accessing information that is not well suited to local circumstances, sensibilities and development aspirations. The digital divide is a source of vulnerabilities that are distributed unevenly and an important axis of inequality that restructures social relations at the individual, household, community, and societal levels. A more insightful sociology of risk is required to support the development of a more adequate sociology of development and more serviceable approaches to sustainability. Sustainable development must address the construction and distribution of risk, and deal with both new and old sources of inequality.