Scientific paper explores civil society roles in urban sustainability transitions

(28 June 2017) – A scientific paper that explores the changing roles of civil society in urban sustainability transitions has recently been published by a team of international researchers from the Netherlands, Spain, Germany, the UK, Italy, Canada and Sweden. The article, which is published on ScienceDirect, is based on research carried out as part of three EU-funded projects, the ARTS, GLAMURS and TRANSIT projects.

The lead author of ‘Elucidating the changing roles of civil society in urban sustainability transitions’ is Dr Niki Frantzeskaki of ECOLISE specialist member DRIFT, Erasmus University, Rotterdam.
The authors first examine the novelty of new forms of civil society organisation based on a thorough review of recent case studies of civil society initiatives for sustainable transitions.
They then conceptualise a series of roles that civil society plays and the tensions they entail.

Based on extensive empirical research and literature review, the authors contend that:

  • Civil society actors have the potential to showcase the feasibility of legitimate sustainability alternatives. In their attempts to do so, they engage in a wide variety of interactions with government and market logics. Both positive and negative effects can result from such interactions, and a systematic understanding of both the potential and the tensions of civil society actors in sustainability transitions is currently lacking, as well as a careful analysis of the endogenous and exogenous forces that drive these outcomes.
  • Examination and understanding of the conditions under which civil society plays a transformative role in sustainability transitions is needed so as to inform policy and community practice for sustainability in urban environments. Conditions may vary between local and national contexts that also include democratic institutions and transparency in governance processes and how they play out in the attended role by civil society as a driver for sustainability transitions.
  • Choices that civil society actors take to strike a balance between overexposure and remaining in the shadows and the effects during different stages of their development need to be better examined. This requires a wider variety of cases, both successful and unsuccessful, to be analysed, cross-compared and examined.

They conclude with a series of implications for future research on the roles of civil society in urban sustainability transitions.