Urban Experiments in Socio-ecological Transformation
FWF-Research Project, P 31226 (2018-2022)
A Socio-ecological Dilemma
The starting point of our research project is the following observation: that the increasing urgency to act on socio-ecological challenges, such as climate change, resource exhaustion, biodiversity loss, and questions of socio-ecological justice, coincides with an increasing distrust in established political responses to these challenges. We call this coincidence a socio-ecological dilemma.
The City as Laboratory
Urban responses to socio-ecological challenges are commonly treated as possible ways out of the current socio-ecological dilemma. In recent years, cities have been transformed into laboratories for more sustainable ways of life. Two urban approaches to socio-ecological challenges have become particularly prominent: the smart city- and the post-growth approach. Ideologically, the two responses are worlds apart. Smart cities tend to be "top down"-initiated and they endorse green growth. Post-growth initiatives (such as food co-ops, urban agriculture, repair cafés, or ecological housing initiatives), by contrast, tend to be bottom-up initiatives, critical of the capitalist growth-paradigm, and committed to alternative, resource-extensive ways of consuming and living.
Smart City- and Post-growth Initiatives
Despite these differences, the two urban responses to the socio-ecological challenges – the smart city- and post-growth response – also share common denominators (denominators that tend to be overlooked in current scholarly discussions of them): both emphasize the importance of acting locally and experimentally. In other words, for both, the local level – more precisely, the level of everyday life – is the central "site" and the experiment (rather than the implementation of ready made solutions) the central form of intervention.
What are the potentials of local experiments?
Against this backdrop, the central question of our FWF-funded research project, which is hosted at the Institute for Social Change and Sustainability (IGN, WU Vienna), is, to what extent acting locally and experimentally constitutes a promising alternative to established approaches to sustainability? More concretely, in our research we seek answers to the following questions:
How can we make sense of the current trend towards acting locally and experimentally on global socio-ecological challenges?
How do different initiatives understand the local and the experimental, including its role for changing unsustainable nature-society relations?
What is the transformative potential and what are the limits of acting locally and experimentally on socio-ecological challenges?