International Conference on Sustainable Transitions IST 2012, Copenhagen, August 29-21 2012 (deadline 7 February)

Note: deadline for submissions extended until 7 February 2012.

The Technical University of Denmark will host the
3rd International Conference on Sustainability Transitions with the title  
Sustainable Transitions: Navigating Theories and Challenging Realities

The need for societal sustainability strategies is globally recognized and reflected in the coming Rio+20 Earth Summit. In the wake of the current international economic crisis such strategies are increasingly framed in a ‘green growth’ discourse, where economic and ecological problems are addressed through the promotion of clean technologies and ‘smart’ solutions: Smart cities, smart grids and smart growth. While such efficiency strategies may provide for changes in specific sectors and cross-sector practices, they are not likely to facilitate the type of pervasive transformative changes at the system level needed to deal with the entrenched character of the current climate and resource utilisation challenges.

Previous STRN conferences in Amsterdam and Lund have explored the plurality of issues related to such transition processes. Various approaches have been developed to describe the path-dependency of socio-technical systems’ developments and to explore and engage in transition’s challenges.

This third IST conference hosted by the ‘SusTrans’ research alliance in Denmark welcomes further explorative studies. Furthermore, it also aims to engage in the core research program of the community through deepening the analysis of how opportunities for transformative change of systems reconfigurations may be recognized and exploited. This includes strategies for changing or dismantling existing systems as well as nurturing diversity in solution frames.
Date: August 29-31, 2012

Place: Technical University of Denmark, Copenhagen
See full call at:
Mail to organizers

Call for Papers on a session entitled: Urban Security and Resilience – alternative futures?

Sponsored by the RGS-IBG Participatory Geographies Research Group (PYGYWG) 

Royal Geographical Society-Institute of British Geographers Annual Conference, July 3-5th 2012, Edinburgh

Session Conveners:

Amanda Smith, Nottingham Trent University and Peter North, University of Liverpool

Increasingly, cities are considering their vulnerability and by association, their ability to withstand and respond to (security) crises induced by issues such as climate change, finance, globalisation, energy price rises, general resource scarcity, terrorism and civil unrest.  In many cases cities are staring to plan for alternative futures and the concept of resilience is frequently deployed as discourse and practice via which cities can or might adapt to these crises. In social environmental systems the concept of resilience has considerable power to focus on the capacity of humans to anticipate and plan for future events, with the ecosystem in mind (Adger, 2000). Indeed, in a “resilient social-ecological system, disturbance has the potential to create opportunity for doing new things, for innovation and for development” (Folke, 2006:253). Therefore, a resilient urban system presents us with a set of pathways in which we can move beyond the dominant paradigm of maintaining the status quo and attempting to control change.

We invite contributions which can be either a paper, an outline of a research problem for discussion or an account of an experience that explore issues associated with the following questions (or others, as appropriate):

  • How is the concept of resilience being deployed in cities? Has there been consideration of the variety of definitions and deployments of the concept? Can the concept have value in all urban contexts?
  • In what ways are issues being ‘securitised’ for consideration in a resilient urban system? Whose security and resilience are being sought? What are the implications of these strategies?
  • Does the concept of resilience provide a means of exploring pathways to move beyond the dominant paradigms of neoliberalism and securitisation?

Please send your offers of contribution to –   and by January 23rd 2012.

7 Doctoral Studentships in Innovation and Sustainability at Sussex

News from Adrian Smith

The University of Sussex’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Doctoral Training Centre, in collaboration with the STEPS Centre and the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), is looking to recruit seven doctoral students to join our vibrant research community.

Applications are invited from highly-motivated students, working in fields around development studies, science and technology studies, innovation and policy studies, and across agricultural, health, water or energy issues. Candidates whose projects demonstrate the potential to work in collaboration with or are supported by industrial; charitable or public sector organisations will be prioritised.

Two studentships at the Institute of Development Studies. Two of the seven projects will be based at IDS; they will draw on the University of Sussex’s ESRC recognised Masters courses, before progression to PhD study linked to the STEPS Centre.

They are linked to the following STEPS projects:

  • Climate change and uncertainty from ‘below’: perspectives from urban India
  • From bats to humans: understanding the social-ecological dynamics of disease transmission

For more details about these two studentships, visit the STEPS Centre website.

Five studentships at SPRU. These studentships are offered in open competition but preference will be given to applications that connect productively with STEPS/SPRU research themes.

For details about the SPRU projects, visit the SPRU website. 

How to apply for the studentships: for information about how to apply, visit the Sussex University website.

The deadline for applications is 5pm on Thursday 16 February 2012. All studentships will be part of the Sussex ESRC DTC and jointly reviewed by the University of Sussex and the Institute of Development Studies.

Community and Transition: narratives towards low carbon futures

RGS-IBG Annual Meeting 3rd July – 5th July, Edinburgh

Session convenors: Gerald Aiken & Sara Fuller (Durham University)

In recent years, there has been increasing emphasis on communities as the means through which a low carbon transition should be achieved. In this context, community has often been associated with normative assumptions and accompanied with preconceived notions of rurality, middle-class choice or a retreat from engagement with mainstream society. In practice however, more progressive notions of community are emerging which are more complex and contested and consider issues such as power and identity as central to understanding how a community based low carbon transition might take place. Such conceptions raise questions about the form a community-based transition might take if it was heterogeneous in participation and environmentally sustainable as a goal. What would be the nature of a transition that was both diverse and plural, both socially inclusive and environmentally just?

This session seeks to ascertain to what extent a ‘community’ notion of transition can open up the field of transition theory and practice. In doing so, it invites both conceptual and empirical contributions that aim to challenge assumed notions of community in the context of a low carbon transition. Themes that papers in this session might address include (but are not limited to):

  • The role of community in transition theory and the relationship between concepts of transition and community
  • The multiplicity of communities and community approaches to transition
  • The (everyday) practices of community in the governing of environmental behaviours
  • How communities operationalise diversity and develop capacity to transition
  • The inherent tensions or opportunities associated with state and non-state approaches to community transitions

Please send abstracts of approximately 300 words to by Friday 20th January.

Transitions and the Everyday

Robyn Dowling (Macquarie University) reports…

In one sense it is difficult to see sustainability transitions emerging from the everyday practices of urban and suburban life. Built into the patterns and practices of daily life – of living in housing, of maintaining familial and social networks, of earning a living – is intensive use of fossil fuels. High household energy consumption, reliance on the private motor vehicle, and avid consumption of household ‘stuff’ are, in the main, normalized and, importantly, connected to valorized urban identities – of home ownership, of parenting, of providers, of workers, to name a few. But is this always and everywhere the case? Is it possible that everyday practices and identities cement unsustainable resource use yet, simultaneously, have embedded within them transitions to less resource-intensive futures?

One suggestion is that perhaps we need to think about everyday practice in a more open way. In much of my recent research I have been concerned with the means through which socio-material arrangements – the energy intensive suburban household – are held together. But in thinking through these socio-material assemblages I have also become alert to their nascent seeds of obsolescence, or more realistically cracks in their walls. I am indebted theoretically here to Gibson-Graham’s[i] decentring of capitalism and the notion of the universalized, disciplined, subject of capitalism. Simplifying greatly, for Gibson-Graham, capitalism is not universal but multiple; not omnipotent, but fractured. For me, Gibson-Graham’s work is inspirational in helping suggest that new identities, new ways of identifying with and identifying carbon-different alternatives are nascent in the present. In other words, identities in transition are already in existence; the practices of the resource-dependent suburban household may contain traces of sustainable practice worth recognizing and building upon.

[i] J.K. Gibson-Graham. 2006. The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It): A Feminist Critique of Political Economy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

The Footpaths project: facilitating low carbon lifestyles

At the Identities in Transition seminar held at the University of Leicester in October 2011, Emily Hodgkinson from Transition Leicester and Jill Fisher from the Institute of Energy and Sustainable Development at De Montfort University presented findings from an ongoing evaluation of the Footpaths carbon reduction project run by Transitions Leicester.

Their presentation can be downloaded here: Leicester Footpaths project

Becoming green in Ecotopia

This post summarises the work Jon Anderson from the School of City and Regional Planning at Cardiff University presented at the Identities in Transition seminar in October 2011

The individual has been cast as both the source of and solution to many contemporary environmental problems. Although some individuals may display concern for the environment, actions are undertaken within a societal context that is often ambivalent to environmental issues. To ‘become green’, therefore, individuals have to negotiate a range of trade-offs between their environmental aspirations and the realities of life in a developed, consumer-based society. This paper draws on extensive field work at one site at which individuals have explicitly sought to manage these trade-offs – the Centre for Alternative Technology, Wales, UK.

It argues that two distinct strategies are adopted to manage the tensions involved in becoming green:

  • a ‘strategy of segregation’ – where professional practices are separated from personal actions to establish balance, if not consistency, in everyday life; and
  • a ‘strategy of alignment’ – where (unsuccessful) attempts are made to unify personal and professional practices in line with environmental ideals.

This paper outlines how the inability of these strategies to fully reconcile the tensions involved in becoming green has led to a ‘politics of pragmatism’ within environmental practice. It argues that this politics offers a way forward for contemporary environmentalism, both within ‘ecotopian’ spaces such as the Centre for Alternative Technology, but also in more mainstream spaces where the majority live their lives.

Jon’s paper can be downloaded here: becoming green in ecotopia

Comments on seminar ‘Identities and Transition’

I would like to share with you some thoughts about the seminar of three weeks ago. I believe we missed an important part of the topic we set out to discuss. It would be great if you could share your thoughts on this, and maybe even point to relevant literature.

 As a newcomer, both to the scientific community and the study sustainable transitions, I may have overlooked some parts of the seminar and the material that was discussed. I hope you can point this out if necessary.

 First of all I would like to say that I enjoyed the seminar. I came to England hoping to learn something about the role of identity within transitions towards a more sustainable future. But I came back to Amsterdam with a far more diverse set of insights, ranging from consensual decision making to different conceptions of activism. However, on my way back I couldn’t  help but feel that we missed an important part of the story. To be precise, we didn’t really address the second research question of the seminar outline: “How identities might change and be reconfigured through the process of transition to a sustainable, low carbon future?” Although most of the presentations and discussions focused on the link between social context and identity in sustainable transitions, very few focused on the dynamics behind this relation: how do identities change? How do identities get reconfigured?

 In this light, two very interesting categories of processes deserve more attention: 1. the influence of social context on the transformation of identity (why and how do some circumstances lead to individual or collective transformation/reconfiguration of identity?) and 2.  the influence of identity transformation on the sustainable transition itself: in what way do different identities affect the transition differently?

 I have to admit that this point is not devoid of some self-interest: such a focus fits closely to my own research. This is of course why I hoped the seminar would have dealt with this issue more specifically. In my research I aim to investigate the role of inter-stakeholder conflict in sustainable transitions. My (very preliminary) hypothesis is that conflict (and some kind of conflict resolution) is an important motor of change (in sustainable transitions) as it can put a severe strain on the identity of the stakeholders involved, resulting in some form of collective learning and corresponding transformation of individual or collective identity. Hence, my research fits within both of the categories described above: how does conflict relate to the transformation of identity, and how does this subsequently influence the transition trajectory?

 These thoughts of course depend on some specific definition of identity, social context and conflict. It is not my intention to delve into this matter here. I hope that you understand what I’m trying to say, even without such minimal academic rigour. What do you think about this? Maybe some of you have interesting articles covering these issues? Perhaps some of you disagree? Or maybe you have something to add?

[Post by Misha Velthuis]

Transition Towns Movement Bibliography

Bailey I Hopkins R Wilson G (2010) ‘Some things old some things: the spatial representations and politics of change of the peak oil relocalisation movement’ Geoforum.

Mason K (2008) When Climate Camp Comes Home, London, Peace News, 2503, November (last accessed 20 December 2009).

Mason, K. & Whitehead, M. (in press) ‘Transition Urbanism and the Contested Politics of the Spatial Practice’. Antipode, pp.

North P (2010) ‘Eco-localization as a progressive response to peak oil and climate change – a sympathetic critique’ Geoforum.

North, P 2011: “The politics of climate activism in the UK: a social movement analysis”, in Environment and Planning A, vol 43/7 pp 1581-1598.

Ryan-Collins, J. (2011) ‘Building Local Resilience: The Emergence of the UK ‘Transition Currencies”. International Journal of Community Currency Research, 15(D), pp. 61-67.

Seyfang, G. (2009) Green Shoots of Sustainability: The 2009 UK Transition Movement Survey. Norwich: University of East Anglia.

Seyfang, G. & Smith, A. (2007) ‘Grassroots Innovations for Sustainable Development: Towards a new research policy agenda’. Environmental Politics, 16(4), pp. 584-603.

Smith, A (2011) “The Transition Town Network: A Review of Current Evolutions and Renaissance” Social Movement Studies Vol. 10(1) pp. 99-105

Smith, A (2011) “Community-led urban transitions and resilience: performing Transition Towns in a city” in Bulkeley, H et al eds. (2011)  Cities and Low Carbon Transitions. Routledge. London. Chapter 11 pp159-177

Trainer T (2009) The Transition Towns Movement; its huge significance and a friendly criticism, 30 July,  (last accessed 20 December 2009).

Trapese Collective (2008) The Rocky Road to Transition: The Transition Towns movement and what it means for social change. Trapese Collective.

Contemplative activism

This blog entry is by Shumaisa Khan, who will be speaking at the second seminar in this series, at the University of Leicester, on 14 October 2011.

Wisdom in Nature (WIN) is a contemplative activism group grounded in Islamic principles.   What does contemplative mean in the context of an activist group?   Contemplative activism, as we practice it, means that as far as is possible we give space for reflection before we act – for example, we start our meetings with a short period of silence.  This practice helps draw out inner wisdom that influences the extent to which we can wisely and sustainably engage in activism ‘out there’.   A contemplative approach also draws on and cultivates wholeness – the idea that various domains are interconnected – social issues, the economy, and the environment; the inner and the outer; and the means and the ends.    With regard to the last point, we emphasize that the means is just as important as the end and actually serves as a goal in itself.

The implications of a process orientated approach can also be seen in terms of funding.    From party politics to published scientific literature, sources of funding are recognized as having an influence over values and outcomes.  While WIN depends on donations, we focus on individuals and have managed to work without financial support from corporations or government.  Such an approach also facilitates the cultivation of cooperative relationships with other groups and the use of existing assets and resources. Our emphasis on process is also reflected in the means through which we make decisions.  We have found that creating the space and investing time into decision-making that draws out consensus enables greater ownership over decisions by those involved and contributes to a deeper democratic process.   Such an approach can also be seen in movements developing across the world – democracy movements in North Africa, the real democracy movement in Spain, Occupy Wall Street (and other occupy movements) in the US, and Climate Camp here in Britain.

The aspects of contemplative activism that I have mentioned above are not necessarily confined to faith-based activism (and not all faith-based groups apply contemplative approaches); secular groups also use such approaches.  But contemplative activism does have a tradition and basis in Islam that has been neglected, and that we are trying to revive.  We articulate our approach through a framework consisting of four strands, each of which involves a turning away from destructive patterns and a turning toward ways that nurture our world and its diverse communities.  These are: earth and community; deep democracy; whole economics; and climate justice – all of which are underpinned by a contemplative dimension within the framework of Islam.   Our activities include educational workshops and training, participation in demonstrations, and practicals on the land.  More information can be found at Wisdom in Nature’s website.

©Shumaisa Khan