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Mapping the nomological networks of sustainability constructs as foundations for social marketing programmes.

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Sustainability is thought of as one of the most complex challenges of our time; one which social marketers can contribute to achieving. However, sustainability has a complicated language that can be easily misinterpreted and misguide social marketing efforts. Two constructs contributing to sustainability’s multi-faceted language that social marketers could draw inspiration from to develop sustainability programmes are sustainable development and degrowth. Yet how is it possible to develop a social marketing programme addressing sustainability when sustainability’s language is complicated to understand and/or open to misinterpretation and misguidance? Five research objectives were developed to answer this question: 1. Map the basic nomological networks of sustainable degrowth and sustainable development. 2. Compare the basic networks to identify overlapping areas. 3. Identify proposed actions common to both constructs that can be used within a social marketing framework. 4. Make recommendations for social marketers developing programmes for the common actions guided by the theories underpinning social marketing. 5. Analyse existing social marketing processes and if necessary develop an appropriate social marketing process specifically intended for social marketers to tackle the sustainability challenge. The research objectives were ascertained under a qualitative approach using an application of nomological networks to thematically map each construct’s elements. In search of commonalities and differences, analyses and comparison of these elements identified several coinciding actions at surface level. The four theoretical paradigms underpinning social marketing (critical thinking, systems thinking, value and relational thinking) were applied to common actions determining the extent to which actions could reduce misinterpretation and misguidance (the higher the commonality, the greater the chance of reducing misinterpretation and misguidance). Guidelines and recommendations for developing successful programmes around each of the common actions also emerged. Through this process ecovillages, renewable energy, transforming food systems and voluntary simplicity and sustainable consumption (to some extent) were deemed more applicable to sustainability than others thus simplifying sustainability’s language from a social marketer’s perspective. Key contributions include guidelines for social marketers to reduce misinterpretation and misguidance, broadening critical marketing thinking in social marketing, a most-appropriate social marketing planning process and adaptations thereof and the utility of nomological networks as a methodological tool.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.