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Individual Paper: Overcoming the process-structure divide in conceptualizations of Social-Ecological Transformations

Assessing the transformative character and impact of change processes

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A fundamental transformation towards Degrowth in face of complex social-ecological challenges needs to initiate a deep change of those incumbent system structures that support unsustainable trajectories, while at the same time encouraging a diversity of alternative practices on the ground, to account for diverse contexts, democratic concerns and uncertainties. The link between this micro and macro dimension of transformations is missing in current conceptualizations of Social-Ecological Transformations (SET), in particular with regard to applicable evaluation principles, which are needed to assess the transformative impact of movements at lower scales, e.g. of radical alternatives such as ecovillages or community-supported agriculture.
Addressing this conceptually and practically relevant research gap, we propose a framework for a SET that helps to bridge process-oriented and structural approaches to transformation. The framework combines an analytically sound approach, providing a basic understanding of the social-ecological system structures and function, with a normative frame that sets the space for legitimate Degrowth goals. At the macro level, the objectives of inter and intragenerational justice need to be pursued for by challenging the central paradigms that constitute unsustainable trajectories. These have been identified as ‘control of humans over nature’, ‘materialistic culture and growth’ and ‘expert knowledge and specialization’. To make the framework concrete and applicable in practice, process-oriented evaluation principles are proposed for the micro and meso level reflecting these normative objectives. On the micro level, the transformative character of change processes is evaluated, based on principles of fairness and resilience and whether they take place outside of the incumbent paradigms. On the meso level, the transformative impact of processes of change is assessed according to their effect on challenging incumbent paradigms (bottom-up) and facilitating further change processes (top-down).
The framework can provide orientation towards a reorganization of society towards Degrowth, that addresses central leverage points, while still allowing for a plurality of approaches. It helps to guide the activities of initiatives, organizations, NGOs or networks to improve their transformative character and the impact of their work. It can also help politicians in designing favorable frame conditions that support Degrowth without setting unintentional path dependencies.

Info

Day: 2018-08-24
Start time: 11:15
Duration: 00:15
Room: ABF (209)
Track: Custom (describe on the submission note)

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