Category Archives: Seminars

Overview and resources from Seminar 4: The everyday politics of sustainability transitions

The everyday politics of sustainability transitions

held on June 22nd 2012 (9.30am-5.30pm) at Nottingham Conference Centre (NTU), NG1 4BU.

Aim of seminar– to explore the ways in which various forms of politics, power and resistance inspire, shape and constrain everyday sustainability transitions.

The workshop posed questions about:

  • the role of different political actors in creating new spaces for discourse on social
  • the role of difference, diversity and social justice in transitions, and how this creates different contexts and possibilities for social change across different
    locations; and;
  • the role of scale and the goal of localization in social movements and how this relates to the sustainability transitions framework

preparation – participants bought along a photo of
an object that represents the everyday politics of transition

10.00  Introduction (Amanda Smith, Nottingham Trent University)

A summary of the key themes emerging from the photos bought along by participants of the everyday politics of transition can be seen in these images:

Themes from Photos bought along by participants 3

10.30  Speakers on Everyday Transitions chaired by Jenny Pickerill (Leicester)

13.30  Panel Discussion chaired by Gavin Brown (Leicester) (opening to discussion)

Panelists: Alan Simpson (former MP for Nottingham South), Kelvin Mason (Climate Camp), Brian Davey (Feasta) Brian Davey Panel ContribDanGlass (Plane Stupid)

Audienceparticipation in the panel discussion

15.30  Open Space Event facilitated by Amanda Smith- those at the seminar suggested questions to be explored in more depth .

A range of questions were suggested- see: Open Space- suggested questions 1

Questions explored included:

a)     Why do community groups fail/succeed, what forms of activism excite us?  Open Space- Theme of Activism

b)     What are the commons and do they matter to the issues of sustainability? Open Space- Theme of Commons 2

c)      How do we address privilege within environmental groups?


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]

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

Seminar 1: Susannah Fisher’s presentation

Here is a copy of the presentation given at the first seminar by Susannah Fisher from the University of Cambridge.  In it, she reflects on the contested politics of sustainability transitions in the Global South, focusing in particular on debates and practices in India.

Sustainability_transitions_in_the_global_Southnetversion (Fisher)

Susannah’s paper poses several very important questions, not least of all, what is the difference between ‘development’ and ‘transition’ in the Global South?

Seminar 1: James Evans’ presentation

Here is the presentation that James Evans (University of Manchester) gave at the Liverpool seminar on 30 June 2011.  Here he presents findings from his recentr research exploring ‘living laboratories’ where sustainable technologies and practices are tested in ‘live’ settings.

Spaces of Transition: living labs for sustainability

This presentation poses some fascinating and politically important questions about the nature of urban experiments with sustainable practices and technologies:

1) How do sustainability experiments transform reality and frame new futures?  Are we witnessing the development of ‘truth spots’ where the evidence of sustainability experiments are ‘true’?

2) If we acknowledge that there is a spatial unevenness of where such experiments are enacted, then who gets to experiment?  Who has the capacity to enact experiments with sustainability transitions

3) Do these ‘living laboratories’ privilege certain types of (technocratic) sustainability knowledges over others?

4) If transition towns (and similar movements) prioritise experiments in social relations, and living laboratories prioritise experiments with technology and infrastructure, is there a need for a more dialectical experimentation that works with both form and process?

Seminar 1: Gavin Bridge’s presentation

Here is a copy of the presentation given at the first seminar by Gavin Bridge from the University of Manchester.  In it, he reflects upon the lessons learnt from a recent ESRC Seminar Series he helped run on Energy Transitions.

Geographies of Energy Transition

The three emerging themes that Gavin Bridge highlights in relation to energy transitions are particularly interesting:

1) that ‘transition’ is polysemic and can accommodate many different meanings for different actors.

2) that energy transitions are situated historically – they signify different processes in different historical contexts

3) that energy transitions are geographically differentiated, with different trajectories, goals and time-horizons in different geographical contexts

How can these lessons be applied more widely to wider sustainability transitions?  Indeed, if ‘transition’ is a polysemic term, does it lose its usefulness as a concept?

Seminar 1: John Grin’s presentation

Here is a copy of the presentation Prof John Grin gave at the first seminar, in Liverpool, on 30 June 2011.  It gives a broad overview of the heterogeneity of the transitions management approach:

Theorizing Energy Transitions

In this rich presentation, Prof Grin highlights many aspects of ‘what we don’t know’ about processes of transition.  He accepted that there is a need for further comparative work examining processes of transition outside of the Netherlands, as well as historical comparisons examining the transition to industrialized society.  Similarly, more work is needed about the agency of civil society actors and service users within sustainablity transitions.

A number of interesting questions were posed in the discussion of this presentation:

1) Can (climate justice, environmental and sustainability) social movements be viewed as ‘experimental niches’ within the different strands of transitions management?

2) Is the multi-level approach to transitions too optimistic about the sustainable potential of capitalism?

What do you think?