Transitions for the People: Theory and Practice of ‘Transition’ and ‘Resilience’ in the UK’s Transition Movement

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  This paper presents an exploratory case study of a new community-led sustainability initiative in the UK called the Transition movement. In recent months Transition movement groups have appeared in a significant number of UK towns with the stated aim of responding to the question: “how can our community respond to the challenges, and opportunities, of Peak Oil and Climate Change?” [Transition Network 2008]. The originators of the initiative have developed a “comprehensive and creative process” aimed at awareness raising, network building, and, eventually, a community-defined and community-led plan for a transition over a 15-20 year timescale. The parallels to the transition management approach being pioneered in the Netherlands and elsewhere are immediate and fascinating, but are they merely superficial? What are the actual differences and similarities between this emerging civil society movement and academic discourse and research on sustainability transitions? The resilience and transition frameworks are briefly presented as two ways of using a systems framing to understand, and inform, the governance of social and technical change in the context of sustainability. Using a combination of survey results, participant observation and documentary sources, we then explore how the terms transition and resilience are being used in the discourse of the Transition movement. The paper then explores the similarities and differences between how the terms are used in the academic literature versus the Transition movement. Finally, the analysis is employed to generate insights about the practical use of the notions of transition and resilience in civil society contexts that involve “lay practitioners”, and how these insights in turn might inform research on transitions and resilience.
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  Transitions for the People:Theory and Practice of ‘Transition’ and‘Resilience’ in the UK’s Transition Movement   Alex Haxeltine and Gill Seyfang   July 2009   Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research Working Paper 1 34    Transitions for the People: Theory and Practice of ‘Transition’ and ‘Resilience’ in theUK’s Transition Movement Alex Haxeltine   and Gill Seyfang Tyndall Working Paper 134, July 2009 Please note that Tyndall working papers are work in progress . Whilst they arecommented on by Tyndall researchers, they have not been subject to a full peer review.The accuracy of this work and the conclusions reached are the responsibility of theauthor(s) alone and not the Tyndall Centre.   1 Transitions for the People: Theory and Practice of ‘Transition’ and‘Resilience’ in the UK’s Transition Movement Alex Haxeltine 1 and Gill Seyfang 2   A paper presented at the 1 st European Conference on Sustainability TransitionsAbstract This paper presents an exploratory case study of a new community-led sustainability initiativein the UK called the Transition movement. In recent months Transition movement groupshave appeared in a significant number of UK towns with the stated aim of responding to thequestion: “how can our community respond to the challenges, and opportunities, of Peak Oiland Climate Change?” [Transition Network 2008]. The srcinators of the initiative havedeveloped a “comprehensive and creative process” aimed at awareness raising, network  building, and, eventually, a community-defined and community-led plan for a transition over a 15-20 year timescale. The parallels to the transition management approach being pioneeredin the Netherlands and elsewhere are immediate and fascinating, but are they merelysuperficial? What are the actual differences and similarities between this emerging civilsociety movement and academic discourse and research on sustainability transitions? Theresilience and transition frameworks are briefly presented as two ways of using a systemsframing to understand, and inform, the governance of social and technical change in thecontext of sustainability. Using a combination of survey results, participant observation anddocumentary sources, we then explore how the terms transition and resilience are being usedin the discourse of the Transition movement. The paper then explores the similarities anddifferences between how the terms are used in the academic literature versus the Transitionmovement. Finally, the analysis is employed to generate insights about the practical use of thenotions of transition and resilience in civil society contexts that involve “lay practitioners”,and how these insights in turn might inform research on transitions and resilience. 1 Tyndall Centre for Climate Change ResearchSchool of Environmental Sciences,University of East Anglia, Norwich, NR4 7TJ, UK alex.haxeltine@uea.ac.uk   2 Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment (CSERGE),School of Environmental Sciences,University of East Anglia, Norwich, NR4 7TJ, UK g.seyfang@uea.ac.uk     2 1 Introduction The Transitions movement is empirically interesting because it engages with systems of  provision and seeks to institutionalise new (resilient and low-carbon) social institutions andsocial norms, unlike individualistic policy instruments for pro-environmental behaviour change (Seyfang, 2009). The Transitions movement explicitly uses the notions of resilienceand transition, and incorporates them within an overall approach to a community-level actionto address the threat of climate change and peak-oil.There is much of interest here, for academics of sustainability transitions and resilience, yetthe movement has until now been largely unresearched (Smith, 2009 and North, 2009 areearly attempts to get to grips with the values and meanings of the movement). In order toaddress that knowledge gap, we present new empirical findings from the first survey of UK Transition Initiatives. This survey used open- and closed-ended questions to collect basicinformation about the srcins, development, character and activities of the UK’s TransitionInitiatives. The online survey was conducted during February 2009, with email invitationssent to coordinators of all 94 Transition initiatives in the UK. Two follow-up reminders weresent, and a total of 74 responses were attained (an outstanding response rate of 79%).Section 2 of this paper provides a succinct framing of the literatures on resilience in socio-ecological systems and transitions in socio-technical systems. Section 3.1 then introduces thetransition movement, providing an overview of how it is framed, its recent rapid growth, andthe types of activity engaged in. Sections 3.2 and 3.3 then provide an analysis of how theconcepts of transition and resilience respectively are being used in the movement. Section 4 provides a conclusion highlighting both insights from the literature that could inform themovement, and the ways in which the analysis points to implications for research onresilience and transitions.This paper represents work in progress, and as such we invite comment from academics andTransition practitioners alike, as we develop our research into this new social movement. Our overarching aim is to open up the subject for enquiry, to help the movement understand itself  better through empirical research, to challenge the assumptions made by the movement in thelight of academic thought, and to offer ideas and suggestions about how the movement mightdevelop in the future. We therefore position ourselves as ‘critical friends’ to the Transitionmovement, offering this paper as a stimulus to deeper thought about the growth and strategicdevelopment of the movement, in order to achieve wider influence. 2 Resilience and Transitions Literatures The literature on transitions and transition management in socio-technical systems There is currently a growing interest in socio-technical transitions in the context of debatesabout how modern industrial societies can achieve a sustainable development. Understandingtransitions is especially important when dominant ‘solutions’ (and the socio-technical systemsthat deliver these) contribute to unsustainable development and when novel solutions mightoffer more sustainable alternatives, or when we face persistent problems that cannot be solvedusing only the currently dominant solutions. In the context of debates about sustainability, weare interested in understanding the processes and patterns of competition among established
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