LUCID conference session 1: Breaking out of sustainability impasses

The parallel session entitled Knowledge gaps began with Elena Ridolfi from the Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona, presenting her ongoing PhD research. Her presentation, Challenges and new research directions for the social and physical dimension of water governance in tourist areas, used data intensive modelling to bring greater analytical attention to the water cycle and its relationship to the tourist industry in highly developed Mediterranean tourist destinations. Her aim being, to furnish decision makers with tools to be more effective in treating the systems as interconnected. The second presentation came from John Harlow from Arizona State University, entitled Consumption and Sustainability, a book chapter he is working on with colleagues. Organisations aiming to encourage more sustainable behaviour, John argued, ought to learn from the marketing industry, which has learned to target not only people’s scientific rationality but tap into identities, pleasure seeking and other factors which influence peoples decision making. The final presentation of the day dealt with the concept of identities more centrally. Lukas Kale from Masaryk University proceeded with his research from data which showed that single occupancy housing was an environmentally inefficient mode of habitation. This led him to engage in a sociological analysis of internet dating sites for people with decidedly environmental identities in order to understand the nature of these identities, finding undesired rather than hedonistic singlehood.

To take away from this session: When dealing with sustainability impasses, the presenters in this session have shown that closing knowledge gaps can mean: articulating the connections between previously unconnected systems, transferring approaches from disciplines with a longer or more successful history or focusing analytically on groups of people that have been previously neglected or have newly emerged.

The second parallel session of the day dealt with the sub-theme Methods and methodologies. Lukas Hermwille and Jonas van der Straeten, from Wuppertal Institute and TU Berlin presented, Stories of lock-in: Mapping energy narratives in Tanzania. They aimed to understand narratives as elements of energy discourse in Tanzania using Q-methodology. This form of quasi-discourse analysis identifies shared viewpoints amongst a population, which can be associated with discrete narratives. The creation of new narratives can open new spaces for politicians to pursue new policies, perhaps by finding common viewpoints between opposing camps. Thus, the quantitative nature of this methodology was seen as appropriate as it would be more appealing to politicians. Next, Cheryl Sjöström, LUCID PhD candidate presented her engagement in Challenging the agricultural modernization discourse. Cheryl employed textual analysis of documents relating food security in sub-Saharan Africa and uncovered how the discourse deployed ignores power relations, is ahistorical and overly managerial.  Her research suggests that discussion of the issue in terms of food sovereignty might move towards overcoming problems that ignore power relations, inequality and narrow conceptualisations of sustainability. Finally, Molly MacGregor also a LUCID PhD candidate introduced her work entitled: A label of quality and rebellion: Case study of direct trade coffee. Molly conducted interviews with website content creators and roasters of direct trade coffee, finding that direct trade is problematic in that it inadequately deals with the workers conditions, quality is highlighted over worker pay and it appeals to an elite market. This has led Molly on to further research questioning the relationship between quality and sustainability.

To take away from this session: Methodologies for breaking out of sustainability impasses can include a variety of methods, which can be used to investigate the framing or discursive construction of issues or business models. One can consider matching the methodology to the audience and using discourse analysis not only to uncover power relations but to suggest substantive change.

The third session of the day, Intersection of sustainability problems: began with Maryam Nastar, LUCID graduate, and, Urban livelihoods in informal settlements: Challenges and opportunities. Maryam framed the resource based problems of water access as a manifestation of underlying social inequalities. She looked at social movements in the area of investigation in Tehran and the potential for a website as a medium to support these. Next up was Kevin Adams from Michigan State University, who presented Biophilic Spaces and Sustainable Communities; lessons from two London case studies. Kevin is used two case studies to understand whether biophilic spaces, which promote human affinity with nature, also lead to community building and social capital, using photo elicitation and interviews. So far the correlation not apparent but work is ongoing. Finally, current LUCID PhD candidate, Ellinor Isgren who presented, Waging a war? Promoting agro-ecology in Uganda’s agricultural revolution, investigated the barriers to the promotion of agro-ecology in the farming system in Uganda. Ellinor conducted fieldwork recently in Uganda and found that barriers lay at the intersection of a number of problems. There was resistance from various public and private interests, intransigent dominant ideological structures and difficulties related to the nature of agro-ecology itself.

To take away from this session: when endeavouring to break out of sustainability impasses, it seems that it is crucial to consider the intersection of resource or ecologically/environmentally framed problems and projects with social and economic interests.

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