Design and quality criteria for archetype analysis

Klaus Eisenack, Sergio Villamayor-Tomas, Graham Epstein, Christian Kimmich, Nicholas Magliocca, David Manuel-Navarrete, Christoph Oberlack, Matteo Roggero, Diana Sietz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


A key challenge in addressing the global degradation of natural resources and the environment is to effectively transfer successful strategies across heterogeneous contexts. Archetype analysis is a particularly salient approach in this regard that helps researchers to understand and compare patterns of (un)sustainability in heterogeneous cases. Archetype analysis avoids traps of overgeneralization and ideography by identifying reappearing but nonuniversal patterns that hold for well-defined subsets of cases. It can be applied by researchers working in inter-or transdisciplinary settings to study sustainability issues from a broad range of theoretical and methodological standpoints. However, there is still an urgent need for quality standards to guide the design of theoretically rigorous and practically useful archetype analyses. To this end, we propose four quality criteria and corresponding research strategies to address them: (1) specify the domain of validity for each archetype, (2) ensure that archetypes can be combined to characterize single cases, (3) explicitly navigate levels of abstraction, and (4) obtain a fit between attribute configurations, theories, and empirical domains of validity. These criteria are based on a stocktaking of current methodological challenges in archetypes research, including: to demonstrate the validity of the analysis, delineate boundaries of archetypes, and select appropriate attributes to define them. We thus contribute to a better common understanding of the approach and to the improvement of the research design of future archetype analyses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number6
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2019


  • Abstraction
  • Archetype analysis
  • Generalization
  • Ideographic trap
  • Interdisciplinary collaboration
  • Panacea
  • Pattern
  • Qualitative
  • Quantitative
  • Research design
  • Social-ecological systems
  • Validity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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