Rapid growth in the food-energy-water (FEW) nexus literature calls for an assessment of the trajectory and impacts of this scholarship to identify key themes and future research directions. In this paper, we report on a bibliometric analysis of this literature that focuses on (1) examining publication trends and geographic focus of research, (2) identifying research hotspots and emerging themes, (3) assessing the integrated nature of research, and (4) reflecting on major developments and ways forward. We used Elsevier's SCOPUS database to search for publications from January 2011 to May 2018 on the FEW nexus, and analyzed the final sample of 257 publications using BibExcel and Vosviewer software tools. The analysis showed steady growth in publications since 2011 with a sharp upturn in 2015 and 2016, coinciding with major funding calls. Thematic analysis of abstracts revealed a strong focus on quantitative resource interlinkages with limited attention to qualitative institutional capacities and intersectoral governance challenges. Term co-occurrence network map showed the term "investment" connected with a large number of frequently cited terms, while the term "governance" demonstrated much weaker links. We reflect on how these findings may help us better understand and address the enduring challenge of transitioning from nexus thinking to action.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1112
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020


  • Bibliometrics
  • Food-energy-water nexus
  • Publications characteristics
  • Thematic analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science (miscellaneous)
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Hardware and Architecture
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment


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