The silent community? : From practicing (a)-political volition to re-politicising difference

Jackson, Rowan and Bettini, Giovanni and Clark, Nigel (2015) The silent community? : From practicing (a)-political volition to re-politicising difference. Masters thesis, Lancaster University.

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The search for new approaches to low-carbon transition have led to an array of different movements over the past 10-15 years, most notable has been the Transition movement which has grown from humble beginnings in Totnes (Devon) to become a global movement. But while Transition is now a global movement in reach, many initiatives are not only falling short of their goal to bring about radical community-wide change, but in many cases are not a visible presence to the community. Part of this, as I will suggest, is down to the Transition Movement’s apolitical approach, which seeks to recast grassroots action as a practical, innovative approach to building urgent community resilience. Acting beyond the frontier of confrontation with government institutions and political differences between Transition Town participants is said to offer a convivial approach to action where similarities are privileged over differences that might delay or outright block the resilient, sustainable future they seek to build. Applying the theoretical contribution of Ernest Laclau to post- structuralist discourse theory this project analysed interview data across 3 Transition initiatives in Northern England to determine what is new and different about the Transition Movement and its apolitical approach that has captured the attention of so many different people across the UK and beyond. Attention is then drawn to the possible limitations of apolitical, non- confrontational action at the local scale through an analysis of the disjunction between the spatial characteristics of garden and community energy projects operating within ‘community’ space(s). Project failure thereafter can have the effect of re-politicising action when participants reflected on unwillingness to confront local actors for change. A noteworthy success of the Transition Town model has been its flexibility and adaptability allowing it to contextualise initiatives across different towns, villages and cities. But while the model needs to be adaptable, empirical evidence showed a marked difference in the approach to political confrontation and interpretation of what apolitical entails between each initiative. One such issue, presented as the apolitical paradox, refers to well documented concerns that if a group hopes to be inclusive of everyone in the local community it must subsequently remain indecisive over contentious local issues that divide the community questioning the ability of initiatives to bring about transition. One such reason for remaining apolitical is to ‘build bridges with local government’ as a means of ascertaining resources, support and knowledge. The issue with this is that remaining on good terms with government can curtail countercultural change, and put an increased dependence on voluntary groups to deliver environmental services as a way of masking central government cuts and normalise contemporary community consumption as it is. This in turn manifests a post-political normalisation of climate change in everyday life, something that Transition explicitly aims to avert. This project therefore argued that the de-politicisation of Transition initiatives, while a reason to adopt the Transition ethos, can also limit the movement to inaction at the community scale; fashioning its own post-political trap by limiting action to non-confrontational spaces that are largely unengaged with and invisible to the local community.

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01 Mar 2016 12:02
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16 Jul 2024 05:35