Category Archives: academia

On #climate bullshit – interview with Dr Hayley Stevenson

A couple of weeks ago the academic journal Globalizations published a new article. “Reforming global climate governance in an age of bullshit” by Dr Hayley Stevenson. I’m the social media editor of another academic journal, Environmental Politics, and I tweeted it from @Env_Pol. It got a lot of Twitter love… I asked Dr Stevenson, who I “met” while researching my PhD (she’s written about Australian climate politics and lived to tell the tale) if she’d be up for an interview. She very kindly said yes. Here it is!

on climate bullshit1. Who are you? (e.g. where born, where did undergrad/PhD/post docs/where are you now, what have been your intellectual/academic interests?)
I am an Australian academic. My PhD is in International Relations and I have always been interested in how rules, norms and concepts travel across spaces and diffuse from the international to the domestic sphere (which of course is not a one-way process). The discipline of IR has real limits for understanding these processes, especially in an environmental context. So my reading has always been extremely varied – across different subfields of political science, ecological economics, sociology, etc.
I started studying environmental issues in 2005. A last-minute decision to attend a Friends of the Earth talk on climate change refugees ultimately changed the course of my PhD research. I knew nothing about climate change, but the injustice of it really struck me, and I have been writing and teaching about the politics of climate change and unsustainability ever since.
Following my PhD at the University of Adelaide, I spent three years at the Australian National University working as a postdoc with John Dryzek. From there I moved to the UK where I was based at the University of Sheffield from 2012-2017. I loved the intellectual environment in the UK – there are massive structural problems and enormous pressures in British universities, but there are also a lot of opportunities for early career academics: workshops, conferences, research funding schemes. I went everywhere and applied for everything! Of course, I ultimately discovered that academic busy-ness and hyper-mobility are fairly counterproductive (and probably mostly ego-driven rather than purpose-driven), so I have spent the past few years trying to create a context for more thoughtful work. This involved the decision to leave the UK and move to Buenos Aires, where I could happily keep my feet on the ground. Why Buenos Aires? I dance tango and it has always felt like home. I speak Spanish so it was possible to move here without abandoning my academic career. I now teach International Relations and environmental politics at the Universidad Torcuato Di Tella. Sustainability is still a marginal topic here – recycling is generally about as radical as it gets (there are movements against pesticides, deforestation etc. but they are small). But interest is growing, and it is genuinely rewarding to be able to guide students through their discovery of the politics of sustainability.
There are huge debates about the pros and cons of academic travel, and that´s probably a topic for another day. But I cannot talk about my own trajectory without touching on this topic. Climate change requires us to confront many contradictions, and this is one of them – for me it was a huge one. COVID-19 is forcing everyone to rethink this anyway. But I must say that life is so much better without airports – there is more time to think and read, and more energy for teaching.

2. When did you first read about the Frankfurt School – by which I mean bullshit, not any of that Horkheimer and Adorno thing – and when did you first think about applying it to global climate governance?
Honestly, I cannot remember. I have always been intellectually promiscuous, straying well beyond my own discipline. I think you have to do this when you study unsustainability; the insights that any single discipline can lend are limited. My most fruitful periods of reading are when I have spent time just wandering, like you might wander a city without a map, it´s hard to retrace your steps and you often wonder how you ended up where you are, but that´s when you find the most interesting things!
I read those little Frankfurt books – On Bullshit and On Truth – about five or six years ago and immediately drafted a paper plan. I had too many things on the go at the time, and it sat untouched for years. David Cameron was the British Prime Minister at the time, and I thought his “greenest government ever” was a perfect case study!
From time to time I would see the Frankfurt books in my shelves and be reminded of that paper plan. The concept of bullshit immediately resonated with me. As climate change moved from the political and social margins, I could see optimism growing. There was always a new announcement to celebrate, a new pledge, a new agreement, a new reason to be hopeful! But if we´re all environmentalists, then what the hell does that even mean? It´s meaningless, and I wanted a way to make sense of that meaninglessness.
Last year, Matt Bishop and Tony Payne invited me to contribute to a special issue on reforming global governance, and my immediate response was “look, I really don´t have anything new to say on the topic. I can´t see any reforms that are going to make much difference in the current climate.” And then I remembered this old paper that I´d sketched out several years before and I said “if this piece interests you and is not too polemical, I will write it, because it is really the only thing that I want to say about climate governance at this point in time”. Happily, the special issue editors were keen.

3. Did you have any hesitations about using the term in an academic publication, or any pushback from editors or reviewers?
There was no pushback. To be honest, I suspect most publishers would see the click-bait potential. I was slightly wary that readers would dismiss the paper in this way; that was my only hesitation. But actually I think it has resonated with what a lot of people were thinking. In earlier plans, I used the term “humbug” but this sounds straight of a Charles Dickins novel. Ultimately, I think we urgently need to talk straight about the climate crisis. Bullshit resonates in a way that humbug doesn’t.

Relatedly, are you worried about now being known as “that bullshit academic”?
If people find the paper useful in some way, I will be happy to be known in any way at all! Besides, there are a few of us writing on BS now. Perhaps it´s time for a Journal of Bullshit Studies. There´s no shortage of empirical material.
4. In the article (which is properly brilliant by the way – congratulations) you focus on international aviation, military aviation, bioenergy carbon capture and storage. Were there other sectors or technologies you had to drop for reasons of space/time?
There are so many other sectors and technologies that we should analyse. I wanted to look more closely at the Climate Emergency declarations. Ireland for example, declared a Climate Emergency while simultaneously purchasing carbon credits. I had to drop a section on corporate bullshit, which included the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative. The members of this initiative are the thirteen largest companies in the sector, including ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, Shell, and Saudi Aramco. So many corporate initiatives on climate change involve just sharing information or releasing data, so this was seen as more significant because it involves real money – a US$1 billion investment fund “to lower the carbon footprints of the energy and industrial sectors and their value chains”. That sounds like a lot until you calculate its actual significance, which I did. The combined annual net profit of members in 2018 (excluding Pemex, which recorded a net loss) was US$228.06 billion. Creating a $1 billion investment fund shaves less than 0.5% off their combined profits for just one year (the fund itself is not renewed annually). Profits for most of these companies soared in 2018 on the back of increased oil and gas production. These companies talk about how they are committed to the Paris Agreement, and it is pure nonsense.

5. What would it have taken for global climate governance NOT to have been bullshit?

(for discussion at a later date!)

6. Are there any countries or regions/cities you know of which aren’t bullshitting on climate change?
I don´t hear any political leaders talking about the contradictions and inconsistencies in their policies, or the uncertain assumptions on which they base their analysis. If you compare national pledges with the data on Climate Action Tracker you can see inconsistencies across the board. The Scandinavians are usually thought to be making the most genuine progress, but I don´t hear any Scandinavian political leaders acknowledging differences between production-based emissions and consumption-based emissions. Sadly I think the only ones that are not bullshitting are the villains who are honest about their indifference – Trump and Bolsonaro. Perhaps my impression is too sweeping. It would be great to see some analysis that convinces me that I am too cynical! I think that one of the greatest dangers of bullshit is that it breeds cynicism, which can become paralyzing.

7. What would you like to see the following groups do about the problem of bullshit, in the context of your call for ‘democratic reglobalization’ to “harness worldwide interconnectedness to bring the climate regime under greater public scrutiny and control, with the aim of producing better outcomes.” Specifically, what are the skills they need, and what are the barriers they would need to overcome?
– Academics
– Politicians
– Civil society organisations

8. You note that “Few citizens have the capacity to readily distinguish truth from bullshit in the pronouncements of political leaders and policy actors.” – so, how could sympathetic actors (especially academics) help citizens gain the capacity?

[combined answers to 7 and 8]

I think a real problem is getting citizens to even care about detecting bullshit. The amount of money invested in maintaining unsustainable preferences is so much greater than that invested in developing concerns about sustainability. A marketing statistic that has always stuck with me is that in the 1940s in the USA, total spending on marketing was about $30 per capita. Now it is over $500 per capita. This is a major obstacle. Some cities around the world have managed to ban public advertising, but it is hard to sustain in the face of corporate pressure. So much money is spent ensuring that we think as consumers and not as citizens. I suppose if we were all granted a citizen’s wage and had more hours for active citizenship, this would help!
Bullshit detection requires a lot of time to get a handle on the nuances of different issues. Think of all those ecolabels – they are based on the idea that we have complete information and can tell the difference between things produced sustainably and unsustainably. But most people don’t have the time to investigate, or if they have the time they would prefer to spend it on other activities.
But there are citizens who do care, so how do we help them? Civil society organizations have developed lots of tools for easily understanding personal environmental impact (like carbon footprint calculators). I think those are important, but we still don’t really have accessible tools for making sense of national and local climate policies, and identifying the bullshit. Greater collaboration between academics, civil society groups, and digital designers would be fruitful to give citizens access to reliable tools to identify bullshit.

Capacity and Disruption – what do they MEAN?

Nowt like having to give a presentation in a job interview (wish me luck) for focusing your reading…. (see last few blog posts).

Two super useful empirical-and-conceptual papers worth giving a shout out to.

First

Johnstone, PhilRogge, Karoline SKivimaa, PaulaFratini, Chiara FPrimmer, Eeva and Stirling, Andy (2019) Waves of disruption in clean energy transitions: sociotechnical dimensions of system disruption in Germany and the United Kingdom. Energy Research & Social Science, 59. pp. 1-13. ISSN 2214-6296 [researchgate]

 

disruption in four types

In the same way that whenever I hear the word “science” being used I want to ask (and sometimes do) “do you mean production science or impact science?” whenever I hear the word disruption in future I am (likely to be) asking “which do you mean – technology, ownership and actors, markets and business models or regulation?”

Probably won’t make me popular, (nobody likes a smartarse) but will at least focus the discussion (?!)

Second, I’m enjoying

Kuzemko, C. and Britton, J. 2020. Policy, politics and materiality across scales: A framework for understanding local government sustainable energy capacity applied in England. Energy Research & Social Science 62 (2020) 101367

They point out that “Capacity is, essentially, about having access to, and using, the various resources and skills available, whilst recognising that they may change over time” before giving us this super-useful table.

capacity

Again, useful for thinking with, perhaps especially in relation to the Active Citizenship Toolkit, which is all about the capacity…

Looting the Ivory Tower: “Making the most of community energies”

Super-useful on DECC (RIP) and the “Community Energy” strategy – the costs of getting it. Should be read alongside that paper by Phil Johnstone Andy Stirling and Ben Sovacool  about Policy Mixes for Incumbency  Honest about risk of academic blindness from using one theory (SNM) and not paying close enough attention to interviewees, and what is NOT being said.

The title: Making the most of community energies: Three perspectives on grassroots innovation

The authors: Adrian Smith Tom Hargreaves Sabine Hielscher Mari Martiskainen  Gill Seyfang

The journal:  Environment and Planning A 2016, Vol. 48(2) 407–432

The DOI: DOI: 10.1177/0308518X15597908

The abstract:

Grassroots innovations for sustainability are attracting increasing policy attention. Drawing upon a wide range of empirical research into community energy in the UK, and taking recent support national government as a case study, we apply three distinct analytical perspectives: strategic niche management, niche policy advocacy, and critical niches. Whilst the first and second perspectives appear to explain policy influence in grassroots innovation adequately, each also shuts out more transformational possibilities. We therefore argue that, if grassroots innovation is to realise its full potential, then we need to also pursue a third, critical niches perspective, and open up debate about more socially transformative pathways to sustainability.

In plain English/tl:dr: You can get policy ideas onto the elite agendas, but only the bits the bosses currently find useful. If you want to transform stuff, ya better be wary of trading truth for access (My gloss)

Key concepts:  

The way the transformative potential (or aspiration) of strategic niches has been successfully absorbed, and now an additional ‘critical niches’ concept is needed…

 

“Summarising, we draw three distinct analytical perspectives from the niche literature: SNM (in which niche influence operates through self-evident improvements in the performance of an innovation), niche policy advocacy (where influence arises by aligning niche innovations with prevailing policy discourses), and critical niches (where influence changes the terms of debate and mobilises transformative action). Table 1 summarises the three perspectives by comparing them in niche terms of: (a) the roles played by local experiments, (b) the knowledge priorities involved, (c) the kinds of intermediation sought, and finally (d) presumptions about the nature of politics.” (p. 412)

smith et al three perspectives

“However, as research proceeded, we noticed discussion in the field was tending to bracket out more critical questions arising from CE development experience. We do not mean evidence about the difficulties of doing projects, of which there was plenty, and where SNM and policy advocacy perspectives helped. Rather, we mean critical debate about transforming energy regimes so that they become more open to some of the originating aims of community involvement and control, rather than CE becoming an adjunct to marginally reformed energy regimes. Critical issues cropped up in conversations with practitioners, yet neither our framework nor policy developments were exploring them in depth. Practitioners rarely persisted in these issues for fear that it would not help their cause in seeking policy support. This prompted us to develop the critical niches perspective and led to us going back through our empirical material to apply and test this new perspective.” (p. 420)

 

“SNM presumes a singularly rational form of politics: everyone learns the same, self-evident lessons. Consensus exists over the sustainable energy problem framing, which is that CE is beneficial, and policy will develop on the basis of evidence about the way to do CE better. Politics under niche policy advocacy takes a pluralistic approach in arguing why CE matters to policy-makers. CE analysed from this perspective identifies the work necessary to convince policy-makers that CE relates to their agendas. Arguments advance by drawing upon evidence from practical CE experience. Reforms can be pushed pragmatically; they should not depart radically from what prevailing regimes deem reasonable. Critical niches, in contrast, see reason in demanding the impossible. That is, they point to limitations under current policy discourse and seek to mobilise for something more transformative. The critical niches perspective sees politics in much more antagonistic terms. It insists upon issues side-lined by the power relations in CE niche advocacy and the exigencies of strategic development. CE projects that are a poor fit or unworkable under current energy regimes can orchestrate debate about restructured energy regimes under which the same projects are very sensible.”(p. 427-8)

 

“Practitioners and intermediaries are aware of critical issues. However, they also rely on opportunities provided by energy regimes: funding mechanisms effectively frame and shape CE initiatives. This raises important methodological implications. Had we limited research to a single perspective and method, such as a survey of SNM processes, we would not have picked up the more guarded critical voices. Working between perspectives with multiple methods meant, for example, that critical issues identified during participant observation at an event, could be pursued in one of our workshops, and become a question in interviews. Multiple methods enabled us to return to developments through different analytical perspectives and, especially for critical niches, notice evidence marginal in many toolkits and intermediary support, and absent in the DECC Strategy.” (p. 429)

 

Marc’s two cents: Another corking article. Shows some of the mechanisms by which the system (“man”) sustains itself. Somebody waves a cheque book or offers a pat on the head and bish bosh, the radicals become willing fig leaves. Big wheel keep on turning…

Should you read this?

Hell yes

 

 

Gupta AK, Sinha R, Koradia D, et al. (2003) Mobilizing grassroots’ technological innovations and traditional knowledge, values and institutions: Articulating social and ethical capital. Futures 35(9): 975–987.

Looting the Ivory Tower: “Co-producing urban sustainability transitions knowledge with community, policy and science”

This one is another good’un, albeit perhaps not entirely plausible in its ‘how to solve the problems identified’…

The title: Co-producing urban sustainability transitions knowledge with community, policy and science

The authors: Niki Frantzeskakia Ania Rok

The journal: Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions Volume 29, December 2018, Pages 47-51

The DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eist.2018.08.001

The abstract:

This viewpoint presents insights on designing, engaging with and researching multi-stakeholder engagement spaces based on the experience of the ARTS project (2014–2016), active in five European cities also relevant for a broader European scale. We argue that those spaces represent an important new instrument of participatory governance that can elucidate the way different actors like community initiatives relate to and employ planning and policy contexts for working towards sustainable urban futures. The multi-stakeholder engagement spaces are analyzed regarding three functions they fulfill: co-creating new knowledge for action, making sense of contemporary transitions, and, exploring how sustainable solutions impact transitions. The lessons learned focus on the roles of different actors within those spaces as well as the link between the multi-stakeholder engagement spaces and a broader local context. We name three caveats including deeply entrenched mistrust between local transition initiatives and local government representatives, existing power imbalances and inclusivity.

 

In plain English/tl:dr: A couple of academics, having been involved in studying a bunch of transitions initiatives in five European cities, explain some of the jargon (very usefully), highlight some of the dangers and also point to some of the dangers/problems (spoiler: am unconvinced that their solution is a solution).

Key concepts:  Local transition initiatives, multi-stakeholder engagement spaces (and I thought LPP was a mouthful?!)

The first-

Local transition initiatives are actor collectives led by civil society, business entrepreneurs and partnerships of those that actively work on sustainability solutions in their local context and contribute in accelerating urban sustainability transitions (Ehnert et al., 2018).

The second –

Multi-stakeholder engagement spaces are institutional spaces in which multiple actors convene to allow exchange of ideas, dialogue on issues and solutions and interactions concerning targeted problems and their proposed solutions. We identify three functions for designing, engaging with and researching multi-stakeholder engagement spaces: co-creating new knowledge for sustainable solutions, making sense of contemporary transitions, and, exploring how sustainable solutions operate and impact transition dynamics in the making. Multi-stakeholder spaces enable participants to co-produce new knowledge to advance urban sustainability transitions. Most of the literature on public participation focused on the methods to engage stakeholders for legitimizing plans and policy implementation, with their use often mandated by legal requirements. Participation was often criticized as characterized by tokenism.

Then let’s scoot down to the fourth of five lessons learnt-

Fourth, the complexity of urban sustainability transitions requires reaching out to diverse stakeholders, bridging existing communities and networks. This process can be time-consuming and at times frustrating, for both participants and facilitators. Used to talking to people who speak the same language, have similar ways of working or share similar concerns, people fear leaving their comfort zones and need time to find a common ground with others. Working in these co-production spaces, we observed that a new sense of shared purpose and social ties were created between people previously working in parallel. This further showcases that creating new partnerships is instrumental to making an impact in sustainability transitions (Frantzeskaki et al., 2014) and it supports democratization of knowledge on sustainability solutions that is paramount for those solutions to be legitimized and widely accepted (Carton and Ache, 2017).

Well, yes, but who has the capacity to sustain that new sense of shared purpose? And who gets to reshape it to their own ends? (they kind of flag that in the second and third caveats)

Second of three caveats

4.2. Peeling off local transition initiatives for the sake of ‘research’ and political agendas?

Local transition initiatives (especially those led by civil society) are important for empowering local actors “to participate in policy making” (Vignola et al., 2009, p.695) and for sharing their knowledge on how to make and scale sustainability solutions. When scientists and/or local policy makers discover impactful local transition initiatives, they often invite them in different fora and promote them as ‘iconic projects’ that showcase possibilities for contributing to urban sustainability agendas. With their limited resources and sometimes unbalanced exposure and demands, local transition initiatives become vulnerable and peeled off in serving different agendas (Frantzeskaki et al., 2016). For this to be alleviated, a new form of commitment is needed both by local governments and by local transition initiatives to respect the autonomy of local transition initiatives in having their agenda and (social) mission and be considered as ‘associates’ in specific topics or activities (Voorberg et al., 2014). Both policy makers and researchers should respect time, effort and resources local transition initiatives can and may contribute and seek ways to compensate and/or acknowledge them. (emphasis added)

HOW?  What would that LOOK like?? With which individuals and organisations would which academics have to work with, how and for how long to show respect, to compensate?  How would that be measured so it could be funded?

 

And as they ask “open and inclusive to whom?”

It remains to be explored how to further engage with community actors and local transition initiatives that were not as established nor as impactful yet as those we selected to engage with. At the same time, it was a challenge on how much effort and time researchers could claim from stakeholders for carrying out this new mode of knowledge co-production that requires intense and continuous interactions with multiple stakeholders. The issue voiced early on was about the power relations between researchers versus the ‘other’ stakeholders since researchers’ time was paid for whereas the ‘other’ stakeholders – especially local transition initiatives – were requested to invest their personal time, or, volunteer their professional time. This makes such processes limited in scope since only a certain type of stakeholders can volunteer their time and access personal and ‘organisational’ learning from such engagement processes. 

 If the multi-stakeholder engagement spaces fulfill their promise of equipping its participants with new knowledge for action and better understanding of transition dynamics, they will be able to continue without the protection of science and will find their own ways to influence a broader local context.

Hmm, I could be wrong, but this seems to betray a naive faith in the Magical Power of Knowledge (MPK)  to overcome baked in class-race-time issues (alluded to earlier).  You can’t magic away those barriers, much as you’d like to. I would be very staggered indeed if the authors didn’t already know that very well, of course…

Marc’s two cents: Defo worth reading – alive to the intricacies and messinesses in the “Quadruple Helix” (no, seriously, there’s an article with that in the title on my reading list – #livingthedream)

Should you read this?

Hell yes

 

Looting the Ivory Tower: “Acceleration of Urban Sustainability Transitions:A Comparison of Brighton, Budapest, Dresden, Genk, and Stockholm”

Heaps of good stuff – conceptually, methodologically, empirically, in here.  Useful for mice who want to bell the cat (though the article itself doesn’t suggest a particular way/particular ways).

The title: The Acceleration of Urban Sustainability Transitions:A Comparison of Brighton, Budapest, Dresden, Genk, and Stockholm

The authors: Franziska Ehnert, Niki Frantzeskaki , Jake Barnes, Sara Borgström , Leen Gorissen , Florian Kern , Logan Strenchock  and Markus Egerman

The journal: Sustainability

The DOI: doi:10.3390/su10030612

The abstract:

City-regions as sites of sustainability transitions have remained under-explored so far. With our comparative analysis of five diverse European city-regions, we offer new insights on contemporary sustainability transitions at the urban level. In a similar vein, the pre-development and the take-off phase of sustainability transitions have been studied in depth while the acceleration phase remains a research gap. We address this research gap by exploring how transitions can move beyond the seeding of alternative experiments and the activation of civil society initiatives. This raises the question of what commonalities and differences can be found between urban sustainability transitions. In our explorative study, we employ a newly developed framework of the acceleration mechanisms of sustainability transitions. We offer new insights on the multi-phase model of sustainability transitions. Our findings illustrate that there are no clear demarcations between the phases of transitions. From the perspective of city-regions, we rather found dynamics of acceleration, deceleration, and stagnation to unfold in parallel. We observed several transitions—transitions towards both sustainability and un-sustainability—to co-evolve. This suggests that the politics of persistence—the inertia and path dependencies of un-sustainability—should be considered in the study of urban sustainability transitions.

In plain English/tl:dr: 

“Everyone” wants to see a ‘take-off’ of sustainability projects (to use the outdated Rostow language). But we looked at a bunch of European cities and the truth is both messier and uglier. Turns out many cities have foot on brake at the same time they have foot on accelerator, and there’s lots of – in the words of Mr M. Loaf “going nowhere fast.

Also,  useful cross-country comparisons

 

Key concepts:  acceleration, acceleration mechanisms, messiness

Marc’s two cents

This one is worth a re-read or two.  Lots of data collection and careful thinking about what acceleration would MEAN, how it could be done, how it could go dreadfully wrong.  Ties in with the whole diffusion of strategic niche “successes” thing…

“These initiatives start to create new social networks and synergies, develop new narratives on the future of cities and become relevant actors in urban governance arenas [1,2]. These are dynamics that seem to differ from the earlier phases of sustainability transitions, which are focused on nurturing innovations in protected spaces. This raises the question if and how urban societies already move beyond the seeding of alternative experiments and the activation of community initiatives for sustainability action…. It is, therefore, important to examine local agents of change such as community initiatives and learn how sustainability in practice is further diffused and integrated into the life of cities [3,4]. So far, there is a limited understanding of the processes through which the innovations introduced by such transition initiatives (henceforth TIs) are taken up or transferred beyond the community that created, facilitated, and nurtured them.”

Our research addresses this theoretical gap and offers a new perspective on the understanding of the context-led and agency-led conditions that enable or hinder the acceleration of sustainability transition in city-regions. We do so based on in-depth empirical case studies and a cross-case comparative analysis of five European city-regions. In comparing the acceleration of sustainability transitions in five city-regions, we explore the following research questions:

  1. What are the conditions that enable and hinder the acceleration of sustainability transitions in cities from the perspective of local transition initiatives?

  2. What are the commonalities and differences between the dynamics in which the acceleration mechanisms unfold in the city-regions?

FIVE MECHANISMS

Upscaling is the growth of members, supporters, or users of a single transition initiative to spread new ways of thinking, organizing, and practicing

Replicating is the take-up of new ways of DTO of one transition initiative by another transition initiative or different actors to spread these alternative ways. Replicating is recognized as a process that changes the pace of change in diffusing and spreading innovative practices through interested and supportive actor-networks

Partnering is the pooling and/or complementing of resources, competences, and capacities of local TIs to exploit synergies to support and ensure the continuity of the new ways of doing, organizing, and thinking.

Instrumentalizing is tapping into and capitalizing on opportunities provided by the multi-level governance context of the city-region to obtain resources. Instrumentalizing is about capitalizing on opportunities and relies on the openness to change and transparent governance situations for taking place [1,30–32] and refers to moving from mission to action for sustainability transitions

Embedding is the alignment of old and new ways of doing, organizing, and thinking to integrate them into city-regional governance patterns. Embedding captures the connecting of issues and solutions to institutions as a way to spread and formalize new ways of doing, thinking, and organizing [15,19,24,35–38] and the extent to which local TIs strategically shape local governance dynamics

and later in the article –

“Embedding was observed in multiple forms: (1) embedding new ways of doing (i.e., practice), (2) embedding new ways of thinking (i.e., culture) and (3) embedding new ways of organizing (i.e., structure). Embedding occurred via the routinization and institutionalization of sustainable alternatives. The dynamics of embedding encompassed governmental institutions, economic enterprises, as well as community initiatives.” (p15)

BUT THESE ARE NOT TO BE SEEN AS SEPARATE/DISCRETE/ DISTINCT

These mechanisms operate not only separately, but can also reinforce each other to accelerate urban sustainability transitions. The proposed acceleration mechanisms are to be tested, validated, and improved through the comparison of the dynamics of sustainability transitions in five diverse city-regions

And the methodology

These interviews were complemented by workshops with all interviewees to discuss, validate and enrich our empirical findings.p 7

For our analyses, we recorded, transcribed and coded the interviews [52]. Our coding scheme included categories for the acceleration mechanisms upscaling, replicating, partnering, instrumentalizing and embedding, as well as the local governance patterns within the city-regions. Examining the empirical data, we foregrounded the obstacles and opportunities that arise from the varying settings within the city-regions. Page 8

The upscaling and continued existence of TIs often relied on a few individual enthusiasts who acted as mediators, networkers, and translators between different actors. A withdrawal of these mediators, networkers and translators often causes a TI to lose its drive, to change direction in unwelcome ways or to cease to exist entirely. This makes TIs quite fragile and vulnerable. 

And the various ways it can (will) go tits up…

Upscaling was confronted with the tension of the limits of growth. While replicating other TIs was a vital source of inspiration, it required the contextualization of the TIs to be attuned to local conditions. Partnering was accompanied by the tension between cooperation and the preservation of the core values of the TIs. This held especially if the TIs partnering spoke different languages and represented different world views. Partnering could lead to imbalances in the relationship between the TIs, especially if the burden of cooperation was distributed unequally among the partners. Instrumentalizing created a tension between the reliance on external resources and the protection of the autonomy of the TIs as it provided political leverage for donors to influence the TIs. Such capture of TIs by external donors can undermine their core values [56,57]. Embedding can develop a dynamic of “stretch-and-transform” or “fit-and-conform” [14,77]. While the former can fundamentally transform entrenched, unsustainable ways of DTO, the latter can diminish the innovative potential of TIs. It can rather be turned into a traditional policy implementation approach.These tensions suggest that more is not automatically better. What matters is the quality of how an acceleration mechanism evolves. Therefore, we propose a more nuanced understanding of these mechanisms of acceleration, entailing not only chances, but also challenges. Page 19

Should you read this?

Hell yes

 

Looting the Ivory Tower: “Energy democracy as the right to the city: Urban energy struggles in Berlin and London”

The title: Energy democracy as the right to the city: Urban energy struggles in Berlin and London

The authors: Soren Becker, James Angel, Matthias Naumann

The journal: EPA: Economy and Space

The DOI: DOI: 10.1177/0308518X19881164

The abstract:

In this paper, we argue that it is generative to link struggles around access to, control over, and the transformation of urban energy systems to the imaginary of the right to the city; and we explore the conceptual, empirical and political contributions of this connection. Our paper starts with two main questions: (1) what do we learn from reading attempts to reclaim urban energy systems from a right to the city perspective? (2)What can this analysis add to debates around the right to the city? We make two main arguments from our empirical engagements with initiatives seeking to remunicipalise urban energy systems in Berlin and London, each of which is premised upon calls for more just, democratic and ecologically sustainable forms of energy supply. First, we argue that these struggles need to transcend concerns around energy infrastructure to raise broader questions around the democratisation of urban space. Second, we contend that appropriating long-lasting urban infrastructure requires the creation of new and durable forms of democratic institutions, providing insights into the notion of self-management (autogestion) beyond more spontaneous and fleeting forms of protest and uprising addressed in much of right to the city literature. Overall, the paper hopes to put the question of autogestion and related strategies at the centre of conversations around right to the city moving forward.

In plain English/tl:dr: “So this “right to the city” notion goes back to 1968, alongside ‘autogestion’ which aligns more to ‘workers’/public control’ than to ‘nationalisation’. Meanwhile, energy democracy comes from the climate justice movement, more recently. How does all this play out when we look at Berliners and Londoners trying to make their energy provision systems less crap? We’re the first people to put all these concepts together, and we did loads of fieldwork – interviews, participation”

Key concepts:  right to the city, autogestion, energy democracy

Marc’s two cents: This is a good article. At the end they write

What is needed is a narrative about alternative imaginaries of social organisation in-against-and-beyond the state (Angel, 2017; Cumbers, 2015), and a strategic approach based on an analysis of promising anchor points for such an endeavour. This also implies not rejecting the local scale as the legitimate and feasible entry point for political projects for transforming wider social and technological systems; but surely while linking local issues to broader scale processes and not constraining action or thinking to a mystified local level.

Hmmmm, alternatively you could say what is needed is a hard look at what skills, knowledge, relationships, organisations and institutions would be needed to arrive at meaningful autogestion, and what (overlapping but distinct) skroi would be needed to sustain meaningful autogestion, to protect it from the usual depredations of the Animal Farm piggies.

But useful for thinking about social innovation (the creation of new organisations/institutions) and energy transitions, so, I’m happy.

Clippings

Thus far, energy research and critical urban theory mostly appear as distinct fields (for an exception see Silver, 2015). Yet we believe that flourishing debates on energy justice (Jenkins et al., 2016; Sovacool and Dworkin, 2015) and, in particular, energy democracy (Becker and Naumann, 2017; Hess, 2018; van Veelen and van der Horst, 2018) could benefit from a stronger grounding in debates around the production of urban space more broadly; and, equally, that debates around the right to the city might be developed further through engagements with urban energy contestations. Our paper starts with two main questions: (1) what do we learn from reading attempts to reclaim urban energy systems from a RTC perspective? (2) What can this analysis add to debates around the right to the city?

Anthropologist Dominic Boyer (2014: 325), for example, targets the ‘genealogy of modern power . . . through the twin analytics of energy and fuel’ as linked with historic processes of state formation, expert rule and different biopolitical regimes.

“Others have stressed the deep entanglement between state power, industrial capital and imaginaries of technological progress necessary to develop and run nuclear energy (Jasanoff and Kim, 2009).”

“The notion of energy democracy originated in the German climate justice movement around 2012, and has since gained international recognition in activist contexts as well as in academic debate across human geography, sociology and other social sciences (Becker and Naumann, 2017; Hess, 2018; van Veelen and van der Horst, 2018). The term has since been taken on by a broad range of activist networks, trade unions and left-wing political parties, largely but not exclusively in Europe and the USA. The concept is framed loosely, incorporating an array of diverse political perspectives, from anti-capitalist de-growth claims towards more Keynesian arguments for green jobs (Angel, 2016). Broadly speaking, proponents of the term tend to advocate energy systems that are ecologically sustainable, socially just and democratically controlled.” Page 6

“Our analysis in this paper relies on intensive fieldwork by the authors undertaken in both cities from 2013 to 2017, which was updated consequently thereafter. Research methods involved interviews with key stakeholders in both urban administration and citizen initiatives for public energy ownership (a total of 19 in Berlin, and 13 in London), as well as participant observations at meetings, events and protests. This was complemented by a comprehensive media analysis continued until today.”

“Democratised municipal energy utilities, as demanded in Berlin and London, could become part of ‘the creation of a new urban common, a public sphere of active democratic participation’ (Harvey, 2003: 941). If the right to the city can work as a ‘“wakeup call” for democratic forces to endorse participation, challenge existing inequalities and injustice, and seek to repair the city’ (Rosen and Shlay, 2014: 949) energy democracy can do just this for transforming an energy sector still characterised by a rigid melange of state and economic power producing an array of social and ecological problems.

Who?? WHAT ARE THE SKILLS?

References worth tracking down (I am still in the kidding myself phase)

Angelo H and Wachsmuth D (2015) Urbanizing urban political ecology: A critique of methodological cityism. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 39(1): 16–27.

Becker S and Naumann M (2017) Energy democracy: Mapping the debate on energy alternatives. Geography Compass 11(8): e12321.

Belda-Miquel S, Blanes J and Frediani A (2016) Institutionalization and depoliticization of the Right to the City: Changing scenarios for radical social movements. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 40(2): 321–339.

Boyer D (2014) Energopower: An introduction. Anthropological Quarterly 87(2): 309–333.

Creamer E, Eadson W, van Veelen B, et al. (2018) Community energy: Entanglements of community, state, and private sector. Geography Compass 12(7): e12378.

Cumbers A (2015) Constructing a global commons in, against and beyond the state. Space and Polity 19(1): 62–75.

 

Hall S, Foxon T and Bolton R (2016) Financing the civic energy sector: How financial institutions affect ownership models in Germany and the United Kingdom. Energy Research & Social Science 12: 5–15.

 

Jasanoff S and Kim SH (2009) Containing the atom: Sociotechnical imaginaries and nuclear power in the United States and South Korea. Minerva 47(2): 119–146.

Kipfer S (2018) Pushing the limits of urban research: Urbanization, pipelines and counter-colonial politics. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 36(3): 474–493.

 

Paul F (2018) Deep entanglements: History, space and (energy) struggle in the German Energiewende. Geoforum 91: 1–9.

van Veelen B and van der Horst D (2018) What is energy democracy? Connecting social science energy research and political theory. Energy Research & Social Science 46: 19–28.

 

Should you read this?

 

Hell yesProbably, yup

 

Looting the Ivory Tower – “Unpacking the social #innovation ecosystem”

Some of my favourite words in the title of an academic article – ecosystem, constellations, typology – squee!! (yes, I know, I should get out more).

And, thank goodness, it lived up to expectations. They take their big database of social innovation networks, with lots of specific projects, and they bash the database against some theory, pick up all the pieces – especially the ones that don’t fit – and make something rich and strange (that’s an allusion , btw).

And it’s, gasp, useful – the five ideal-type ecosystems are good to think with, I think.  Of course, there’s all sorts of questions – as the authors themselves admit – to be answered. (how) do the ecosystems change over time. Whats the succession? Are there keystone species? What happens if there’s a shift in the climatological conditions?  What if someone goes fishing in the fishpond with dynamite? What if the badgers move the goalposts? Yes, you can push the metaphor further than they have here, without breaking anything.  Anna Tsing should be locked in a room with mushroom risotto slid under the door in exchange for completed chapters of a book about this stuff, basically.

 

The title: Unpacking the social innovation ecosystem: an empirically grounded typology of empowering network constellations

The authors: Bonno Pel, Julia Wittmayer, Jens Dorland & Michael Søgaard Jørgensen

The journal: Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research,

The DOI: DOI: 10.1080/13511610.2019.1705147

The abstract:

Social innovation is on the rise as a mode of governance through which to address societal challenges. Seeking to empower SI initiatives, researchers and policy makers are concerned with the development of supportive “ecosystems”. This concept usefully calls attention to the distributed nature of SI agency, but many questions remain on the kinds of network constellations involved. This contribution unpacks the “SI ecosystems” concept, specifying how the empowerment afforded through SI networks rests on (1) local embedding, (2) transnational connectivity and (3) discursive resonance. Charting the variety of network constellations as studied in an international comparison of 20 transnational SI networks, a typology of SI ecosystems is constructed. Distinguishing five SI ecosystem ideal-types ranging from loosely integrated and locally focused co-creation hubs to globally connected and widely resonating political movements, the typology informs a differentiated approach to their understanding and development.

Keywords: social innovation; innovation ecosystems; networks; co-production; typology

In plain English/tl:dr: 

Academics trawl through studies on social innovation [one of the big sexy buzzterms du jour] and try to get beyond the general hand-waving and halo-effect of labelling a particular field as an “ecosystem”, to answer specific questions – 

  • What actors, networks and processes does the “SI ecosystems” concept empirically refer to? 
  • Which kinds of SI ecosystems can be distinguished and how do they empower the SI initiatives embedded in them?

[I’d add disempowering, but I never met a situation where I didn’t want to talk about disempowerment… ]

They come up with five “ideal type” ecosystems to think with. There is a lot more work to be done ,but this paper is a bloody good start.

Why ecosystems? Because it takes us away from individual/heroic actors…

Instead of reducing the SI ecosystems to supportive structures for certain innovation heroes, Howaldt, Kaletka, and Schröder (2017a) and Kaletka, Markmann, and Pelka (2017) argue that ecosystems are populated with a multitude of actors and organizations that co-shape social innovations. In order to develop such non-reductionist understanding, they argue the need to move beyond emblematic empirical examples of what “SI ecosystems” mean and comprise – observing instead, in comparative fashion, how SI ecosystems come in a broad miscellany of forms.

 

soc innov ecosystem

Key concepts:  Social innovation ecosystems – and different “ideal types” – coral reefs, badger setts, fishponds etc.

“four empowerment processes of legitimacy (alignment with local needs), critical mass (for which vicinity is important), provision of accommodation and material resources, and institutional anchorage”

and

“Constituting the most salient combinations of “local embeddedness”, “transnational connectivity” and “discursive resonance”, their pertinence arguably extends beyond the sample of cases by which they were empirically informed. Beyond their similarity to certain exemplar cases, the empirical adequacy of these constructs speaks from the recognizable sets of attributes (actors, network constellations and empowerment processes Cf. section 2.3) that constitute them. In order to highlight how the ideal-typical SI ecosystems indicate essentially different kinds of empowering network structures, they have been distinguished through evocative metaphorical names.

Type A: The “coral reef”. This rich and extended kind of ecosystem provides strong empowerment across all three dimensions of empowering network constellations. Combining strong local roots with a wider translocal identity, political voice and a favorable discursive sphere, these SI ecosystems combine a multitude of the associated twelve (Cf. Figure 1) empowerment processes into a network structure that is particularly supportive to local SI initiatives aiming for broad transformative impacts…..

Type B: The “badger castle”. This second type represents the opposite end of the spectrum, indicating rather secluded habitats. These SI ecosystems provide relatively little empowerment across the three dimensions. This partly reflects the institutional voids that have some SI initiatives struggling for resources and supportive alliances. On the other hand, this category of ecosystems also comprises the sparse, loose networks actively sought for by initiatives cherishing independence, flexibility, and diversity, which also deliberately seek out or build secluded spaces….

Type C: The “Fish pond”. This type of SI ecosystem empowers primarily through strong local embedding, and significantly less so through translocal connectivity (transgressing the edges of the “pond”). Discursive resonance can be either weak or strong. The key empowerment processes are legitimacy, locally developed critical mass, provision of accommodation and material resources, and institutional anchorage. These ecosystems are typically sought for by local SI initiatives for the affordance of material support and immediate means for sustained operation. The network formation is characterized by physical proximity. Key actors are the local governments, civil society organizations, NGOs, citizens, students and entrepreneurs that form local communities….

Type D: The “Fungi strand”. This fourth category of SI ecosystems is characterized by its high empowerment through translocal connectivity (i.e. the subterranean extensions of fungi strands), and relatively low empowerment through local embedding. Empowerment is mainly afforded through translocal critical mass, collective voice and identity, and facilitation of knowledge sharing. Typically involving well-developed network organizations that seek to boost the circulation of organizational models, practices, framings and codified knowledge, these ecosystems tend to involve relatively high levels of discursive resonance. Driven generally by political rationales of organizing collective action and moving beyond dispersed and locally confined action, various policy entrepreneurs, intermediaries, internationally operating professionals, large NGOs and academics can be seen to act as key agents in this translocal linkage…

Type E: “Seeds flight”. This fifth type of SI ecosystem empowers primarily through the communicative sphere around socially innovative concepts – which can be thought of as seeds flight, carried by the winds of society. This fifth type of ecosystem differs from the “coral reef” and the “fungi strand” types for the pivotal significance of “discursive resonance” and the relatively negligible role of local embedding and translocal networking. This discursive resonance involves the authoritative actors and organizations that lead in discourse formation, but also the communication infrastructures through which organizational models, practice formats, fashionable framings and codifying knowledge are mediated and spread…

 

Marc’s two cents

See above- I couldn’t contain myself to wait until here in the blog post to gush!

Should you read this?

Hell yes – but you may find it heavy going if you’re not an academic.

 

References worth closer attention

Aiken, G. T. 2019. “Community as Tool for Low Carbon Transitions: Involvement and Containment, Policy and Action.” Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space 37: 732–749. doi:10.1177/2399654418791579.

Amanatidou, E., D. Cox, and D. Gagliardi. 2018. “Social Engagement: Towards a Typology of Social Innovation.” In MIOIR/MBS Working Paper Series-Working Paper 82

Avelino, F., J. M. Wittmayer, B. Pel, P. Weaver, A. Dumitru, A. Haxeltine, R. Kemp, et al. 2019. “Transformative Social Innovation and (Dis)Empowerment: Towards a Heuristic.” Technological Forecasting and Social Change 145: 195–206. doi:10.1016/j.techfore.2017.05.002.

Biggeri, M., E. Testi, and M. Bellucci. 2017. “Enabling Ecosystems for Social Enterprises and Social Innovation: A Capability Approach Perspective.” Journal of Human Development and Capabilities 18 (2): 299–306.

Kaletka, C., M. Markmann, and B. Pelka. 2017. “Peeling the Onion. An Exploration of the Layers of Social Innovation Ecosystems. Modelling a Context Sensitive Perspective on Driving and Hindering Factors for Social Innovation.” European Public & Social Innovation Review 1 (2). doi:10.31637/epsir.16-2.3.

Ziegler, R. 2017. “Social Innovation as a Collaborative Concept.” Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research 30 (4): 388–405

 

Mental note to self – use this for thinking about how to diffuse “Active Citizenship Toolkit” – how much local embedding, translocal stuff etc.  Tbh, want to get it trialled and USED in Manchester before making a big song and dance about it…

Academic article on social tipping dynamics – or “Oh for cockpity’s sake…”

Ignore my snark later on – this is a good article, that you should take the time to read.  Crucially though, understand that the authors – like most academics – are addicted to trying to play what Haraway calls “the God Trick” and has also been called “cockpitism“.  To be expected, I guess, since the authors have hundreds of years between them of making detailed warnings to policymakers who… ignore them. Those authors know the depth of the shit we are in, and in order to cope with their fear, double down on being able to “see” and “advise.”

Also though – STIs?  Really? Was there not a better acronym, especially when you’re talking about things being contagious? (and yes, I will go again with that joke my wife mysteriously does not like: “What’s the difference between true love and herpes?”  Answer – herpes lasts forever.”)

The title: Social tipping dynamics for stabilizing Earth’s climate by 2050

The authors: Ilona M. Ottoa,1,2, Jonathan F. Dongesa,b,1,2, Roger Cremadesc, Avit Bhowmikb,d, Richard J. Hewitte,f, Wolfgang Luchta,g,h, Johan Rockströma,b, Franziska Allerbergera,i, Mark McCaffreyj, Sylvanus S. P. Doek, Alex Lenfernal, Nerea Moránm,n, Detlef P. van Vuureno,p, and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber

The journal: PNAS

The DOI: http://www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1900577117

The abstract:

Safely achieving the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement requires a worldwide transformation to carbon-neutral societies within the next 30 y. Accelerated technological progress and policy implementations are required to deliver emissions reductions at rates sufficiently fast to avoid crossing dangerous tipping points in the Earth’s climate system. Here,we discuss and evaluate the potential of social tipping interventions (STIs) that can activate contagious processes of rapidly spreading technologies, behaviors, social norms, and structural reorganization within their functional domains that we refer to as social tipping elements (STEs). STEs are subdomains of the planetary socioeconomic system where the required disruptive change may take place and lead to a sufficiently fast reduction in anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. The results are based on online expert  elicitation, a subsequent expert workshop, and a literature review. The STIs that could trigger the tipping of STE subsystems include 1) removing fossil-fuel subsidies and incentivizing decentralized energy generation (STE1, energy production and storage systems), 2) building carbon-neutral cities (STE2, human settlements), 3) divesting from assets linked to fossil fuels (STE3, financial markets), 4) revealing the moral implications of fossil fuels (STE4, norms and value systems), 5) strengthening climate education and engagement (STE5, education system), and 6) disclosing information on greenhouse gas emissions (STE6, information feedbacks). Our research reveals important areas of focus for larger-scale empirical and modeling efforts to better understand the potentials of harnessing social tipping dynamics for climate change mitigation.

In plain English/tl:dr: We asked  a bunch of our academic mates who work on this stuff what it would take to stop us from continuing on the same tragic trajectory to dystopian hellholeness.  They came up with a bunch of “tipping points” and feedbacks.

(But nobody really said who was gonna bell the bloody cat)

Key concepts:  Social tipping points/elements/dynamics/interventions.

“In this paper, we examine a number of potential “social tipping elements” (STEs) for decarbonization (27, 28) that represent specific subdomains of the planetary social-economic system. Tipping of these subsystems could be triggered by “social tipping interventions” (STIs) that could contribute to rapid transition of the world system into a state of net zero anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. The results reported in this study are based on an online expert survey, an expert workshop, and an extensive literature review”

Fine. You asked a bunch of your cockpitty mates. And cat-bellers? How many of them did you ask?

The social tipping dynamics of interest for this study are typically manifested as spreading processes in complex social networks (35, 36) of behaviors, opinions, knowledge, technologies, and social norms (37, 38), including spreading processes of structural change and reorganization (34). These spreading processes resemble contagious dynamics observed in epidemiology that spread through social networks (39). Once triggered, such processes can be irreversible and difficult to stop. Similar contagious dynamics have been observed in human behavior (35, 36), for example in assaultive violence (39), participation in social movements (40), or health-related behaviors and traits (36), such as smoking or obesity (41, 42).

btw, (40) is  P. Hedström, Contagious collectivities: On the spatial diffusion of Swedish trade unions, 1890–1940. Am. J. Sociol. 99, 1157–1179 (1994).

BUT  some useful for my immediate purposes stuff on energy –

STIs in the energy production system. The technological development in the energy production system is a dominant element of the decarbonization discussions in international institutions (55, 56) and business partnerships (57). The results of our expert elicitation confirm that technology development is likely to play a key role, however, not in the sense of yet-to-be invented technological solutions, but rather in the adaptation of existing carbon-free technology primarily in the power sector and by facilitating a smarter utilization of energy. The main control parameter that drives the adaptation of fossil-fuel–free energy technology is associated with the financial returns of its adoption (58). Our expert group believed that the critical condition needed to trigger the tipping process is the moment when fossil-fuel–free energy production yields higher financial returns than the energy production based on fossil fuels. The empirical data show that this critical threshold is about to be reached; the prices of renewables have dropped sharply in the last few years, and they have already become the cheapest source of energy in many world regions. The average cost of onshore wind dropped by 18%, and offshore wind fell by 28% (59).

TYPICAL BLOODY ECONOMISTS.  BELIEVING THAT CONSUMERS, OR INVESTORS, ARE “RATIONAL” and that there is not an enormous issue around social acceptance of (energy) technologies.  Plug anxiety etc etc Sigh. But this is useful –

2050 tipping points

Finally, the urgency and complex character of climate change require transdisciplinarity and engagement with social movements, knowledge brokers, and change leaders (151). More research is needed on understanding the required social processes and the drivers and incentives for short-term engagement of diverse coalitions of action around concrete solutions and strategies at various governance levels (152).

Indeed.  But how? And to what effect?  In what languages (I don’t mean English or German).  As a dialogue? Who facilitates? For how long? With what ‘outcomes’? Who is not in the room? Whose intellectual labour will get looted (probably the women of colour, if history is any guide).

 

Marc’s two cents

They almost lost me in the second sentence – “It is also an indispensable prerequisite for achieving sustainable development.”  That, my friends, is a tautology – show me a dispensable prerequisite. And why two words with so many syllables right next to each other? What are you trying to prove, and to who?

But, yes, we need the big picture thinking.

2050 tipping points pretty picture

But we also need much better answers to the “how will civil society get up on its hind-legs and STAY ON ITS HINDLEGS when the tear gas disperses and the neo-liberal think tanks move back in…?”

 

Should you read this?

Hell yes

Probably, yup – but with your ‘academics are waffling’ sensors set to kill.

Depends

Probably not

Defo not (unlikely to publish a review)

 

And on cat belling

Tribal barriers to cat belling

https://marchudson.net/2020/05/15/on-the-tribal-barriers-to-cat-belling/

Economists, the post-coronavirus world and that cat in need of belling

https://marchudson.net/2020/04/22/economists-the-post-coronavirus-world-and-that-cat-in-need-of-belling/

The 4Cs- coronavirus, capitalism, climate and cats (belling of)

https://marchudson.net/2020/04/01/the-four-cs-coronavirus-capitalism-climate-and-cats-belling-of/

Building whose capacity to do what? How?

This is a direct follow on from an initial rant about “social innovation”.  At the end of that I went on a rant about how social change is a marathon not a sprint and that the ‘load’ has to be shared.

There’s an article, very astute, by a Development Aid specialist that I read as I yomped around Alexandra Park with my backpack full of bricks and weights. I should try to track it down… meanwhile, this –

 

But what IS the load?

There’s the technical work – be it writing press releases, responding to consultations, gathering evidence for a judicial review, fundraising, prisoner support.  

Sharing the load would be making sure that the knowledge and skills were easily shareable – written down, turned into videos, workshops, trainings etc, that it was possible for folks to be apprentices in meaningful ways

There’s the credit – if people are going to do grunt work, then they should also be able to get – if they want it – credit, exposure etc.

Power to decide – what are the decision-making processes? Who has final say? How can they be challenged etc? At what point do those who have been doing grunt work get an invitation to be part of the decision making (which they may of course choose to decline).
All this brings me to the buzzword of many a year – “Capacity building”

As meaningless and frustrating as “innovation”  (yes, vaccines were an innovation. So were machine guns, mustard gas and concentration camps. For god’s sake stop using innovation as a synonym for ANY form of progress).

And always ask the following

Capacity-building To DO what?

To do endless pilots which allow policymakers to defer and defer and defer? To do the leg-work for big beasts to swoop in and create new markets and marketisations? To be the thin-end of the neoliberal wedge?

For WHO to do what?  White middle-class professionals sitting in offices, being suitedly and suitably parasitic on those taking the risks?

For how long is this capacity going to be maintained? 

Are you just creating the next generations of micro-bosses, or are you trying to spread the capacity to capacity build and create the vibrant civil society you say you want? Are you teaching the pigs on animal farm, or also the cows, hens and the sheep?

 

And when you’ve answered these questions

How is this CBW done?

By who?

Peer-to-peer or  Top down info deficit bullshit?

(Horizontal, peer-to-peer, social innovation – all the right buzzwords. Old wine in new bottles, we’ve been on this rodeo before.)

 The whole point of the Active Citizenship Toolkit, as I see it, is to make it easier for individuals and groups  to see what is at stake – what skills, knowledge and relationships are needed for sustained social innovation around the climate crisis, the racial and sexual injustice crises…  If we are serious about transition/transformation and the acceleration of them, then it becomes a question of WHO IS GOING TO KEEP BELLING THE CAT?

The cat WILL take the first bell off, and eat the brave and clever mice who put it on.  So those brave and clever mice better have prepared the next generation of cat-bellers.  And also devised ways of helping them cope with watching a vicious cat eating their buddies. And figured out how to learn from all the failed attempts (one is reminded of the bomb disposal experts who would describe each step of the way over a telephone, so that when they made a mistake, someone else could learn. Not inspiring, but hey ho…)

 

Okay, I have completely lost control of my metaphors. Happens when you’re rusty at blogging. So it goes. Publish in beta and be damned…

“Social innovation” acceleration and the belling of cats

So, my intellectual energies have been mostly devoted to the Active Citizenship Toolkit, which is a project of the group I am part of – Climate Emergency Manchester.  I’ve researched and written a couple of novice’s guides – to Manchester City Council’s budget process, and to the thorny question of allyship.  Other two page guides are ‘under review’ and will go up soon.

ALSO, and this is Good News – I have been shortlisted for an academic job.  It’s about social innovation.  So, over the coming few days expect a bunch of posts about that subject, and “acceleration” and so on.  This is to help me figure out what I think and what I should say (and of course NOT say on the day itself…)  Here’s a link to a list of ‘adjectival innovations’  and innovation terminology I made a while back.  Doubtless will have to expand it…

So, below, a few preliminary comments about my prejudices, and then I will follow up with another, more “ACT” related post about the thorny question of “capacity building”…

First banality:  The word “innovation” is sprinkled around like magic pixie dust. Like its cousins reform and progress it sidesteps/silences profound questions about morality and end-states.  Most of the time it is used there is a (knowing?) naivete around questions of incumbent power and resistance.

Second banality:   Most work on “innovation” and “efficiency” also largely ignore rebound effects – what will be done with the money/time/energy ‘saved’?  So, you insulate someone’s house so they aren’t being bled white on fuel bills. This is a good thing. But from a “carbon saved” perspective, what if they then use the money they saved to fly to Barcelona or Prague for the weekend.

Third banality: Most innovations fail, or take a hell of a lot longer to mature than folks think they will (people and hype-cycles, eh?) 

Look, we’re in the shit.  We have had over 30 years to take action on climate change, and in all that time we have just dug our holes deeper.  More people on the planet, yes, but crucially, far more fossil fuel infrastructure, far higher expectations of an always on world etc etc etc (and yes, this is not individual consumers’ “fault” blah blah systemic blah blah regimes).

And because we are in the shit, we are busy bright-siding ourselves. You saw it after the Paris Agreement, when people who really ought to have known better (and probably, in private, DID know better) spouted all sorts of guff about turning points [here’s a blog I wrote about that in December 2015]. And now here we all are in coronaworld, spouting guff about Green Recoveries, with no sense of the coalitions-work needed to make that happen.

So we latch onto the idea of social innovation “(versus” technological innovation? I don’t know, I haven’t read the literature. Hopefully nobody is that ill-informed?)

And we Need To Believe that it will get us to where we need to get to.  Social Tipping Innovations etc.  Yes, we all apparently need to contract an STI…

soc tipping dynamics

It reminds me of that clip from “The Newsroom” where they get a climate scientist on and he says “x/yz/ would all have been great 20 or even 10 years ago…” 

So, sophomoric ill-informed doomster rant over.  I am going to dive into various academic articles about social innovation, energy transitions, urban governance. . Going to blog about each (usually in a batch).

Criteria for articles on a kind of Likert scale on Should you read this ?

Hell yes
Yes 
Depends
Probably not
Defo not (unlikely to publish a review)

And also “What else by authors is any good?”

My coda.

Social innovations like technological innovations, are all well and good, and fun to study at the Research and Development stage.  But deployment and dissemination/diffusion whatever, that is usually a far trickier thing.

Individuals  who are part of innovation get tired, burnout, demoralised, or sell out (literally)

Meanwhile, organisations are fantastically bad at sustaining morale. On the whole they either flame out or become self-sustaining rigid bureaucracies, trading on past glories.

That doesn’t, it seem to me on a rough first glance, get captured in academic work about social innovation, because who goes back after five years, or ten years, or fifteen years and sees “where are they now?” It is just endless polaroids, some explicit, some not, all always fading.

This is a marathon, not a sprint, So, need to think of it as a relay race to – how does “the baton” get handed on? We (activists) need to think of sharing the load. Which is the subject of the next blog post – on “capacity building”.