Theorizing Social Sustainability and Justice in Marine Spatial Planning: Democracy, Diversity, and Equity.


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This article elaborates a conceptual framework to examine social sustainability in marine spatial planning (MSP). Based on a critical literature review of key texts on social sustainability in MSP and the broader sustainable development literature we show the need to elaborate a cogent and comprehensive approach for the analysis and pursuit of social sustainability linked to the sea. We then theorize social sustainability by developing a conceptual framework through integrating three dimensions: Recognition, Representation and Distribution. While these three social sustainability/justice features clearly overlap and are interdependent in practice, the conceptual thinking underpinning each of them is distinctive and when taken together they contribute towards conceiving social sustainability as a pillar of sustainability. Our approach can support an analysis/evaluation of MSP in that, first, its broad scope and adaptability makes it suitable to examine the wide range of claims, demands, and concerns that are likely to be encountered across different practical MSP settings. Second, it acknowledges the opportunities and challenges of assessing, implementing, and achieving social justice within a broader sustainability framework.

Sea Basin(s): 
March 2020
Application in MSP: 
Unknown effect
Not sector specific
Type of Issue: 
Social aspects
Type of practice: 
Stage of MSP cycle: 
Vision and aims
Cross-border / trans-national aspect: 

Questions this practice may help answer: 

  • What are the interactions between social and environmental sustainability? 
  • How can social sustainability concept be applied in the MSP process?   

Implementation Context: 

The research is conducted in co-operation between the academic and research institutions of Germany, Latvia, Sweden and Poland.

Aspects / Objectives: 

The purpose of the article is to contribute a theoretical approach to social sustainability in MSP, as well as to help researchers and practitioners investigate, examine, understand, analyze, and evaluate social sustainability as a social policy in different MSP settings. 


The study is based on a critical literature review of key texts on social sustainability in MSP and the broader sustainable development literature. The authors develop a conceptual framework through integrating three dimentions: recognition (of social-cultural diversity), representation (in decision-making), and distribution (of goods and bads). 

Main Outputs / Results: 

The methodology developed shows how to integrate social justice/social sustainability in the MSP process. It highlights the importance of incorporating the social justice in MSP, as it concerns the trust, legitimacy and accountability of public action. 


The methodology can be applied in any MSP process.  

Responsible Entity: 

Södertörn University, Sweden 

Technology and Environmental Studies, School of Natural Sciences 

Funding Source: 

The Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies. 

Contact person: 

Fred Saunders 

Technology and Environmental Studies, School of Natural Sciences, Södertörn University (Sweden)