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Translocal grassroots movements and the geography of sustainability transitions

Feola, G. (2016). Translocal grassroots movements and the geography of sustainability transitions: the case of the Transition Towns Network. 7th International Sustainability Transitions (IST) Conference 2016 - Exploring Transition Research as Transformative Science, 6th – 9th September 2016, Wuppertal, Germany.

There is growing recognition that fundamental transformations towards sustainable modes of production and consumption -sustainability transitions- are needed to respond to environmental change and to realize fair and prosperous societies. This paper engages with sustainability transitions as geographical processes. It builds on the geographies of sustainability transitions scholarship, which has recently emerged at the intersection of geography and transition studies. However, this paper also challenges the dominant focus of the literature on the geographies of sustainability transitions, which has focused on socio-technical systems and the ‘green’ economy, but has largely overlooked grassroots innovations and alternative economies. As a consequence, the space for alternative ways of envisioning the future beyond neoliberal capitalism, and of governing transitions in particular regions has been constrained. Building on a number of studies conducted by the author on the Transition Towns Network (TTN) in Europe and worldwide, this paper enhances our understanding of the role of place, space and scale in grassroots-led sustainability transitions. The TTN is a translocal network of local initiatives experimenting alternative practices to build resilient communities in response to climate change, peak oil, and a failing economic model. These studies show that the diffusion of TTN is linked to the combination of inter-scalar and regional learning processes, that geographical locations matter with regard to where transition initiatives take root and the extent of their success, and that place attachment may influence the diffusion of successful initiatives.  Furthermore, the regional clustering of TTN challenges current narratives on the ubiquitous replication of grassroots innovations, and may be explained by cross-movement transfers and collaborations, institutional thickness, and interplay of different types of proximity. The paper concludes by outlining directions for future research on the geographies of  grassroots-led sustainability transitions. Longitudinal comparative studies can advance our understanding of transition pathways and the dynamic nature of translocal linkages, while inter-regional spatial analysis can uncover changing diffusion patterns, and moments of rupture in particular places.


Feola, G., Him, M.R. 2016. The diffusion of the Transition Network in four European countriesEnvironment and Planning A, 48(11):2112-2115. [Open access here]

Feola, G. 2015. Societal transformation in response to global environmental change: a review of emerging conceptsAMBIO, 44(5): 376-390.

Feola, G. 2014. Narratives of grassroots innovations: A comparison of Voluntary Simplicity and the Transition Movement in Italy. International Journal of Innovation and Sustainable Development, 8(3):250-269. [Open access here]

Feola, G., Nunes, J.R. 2014. Success and failure of Grassroots Innovations for addressing climate change: the case of the Transition Movement. Global Environmental Change, 24:232-250.
Giuseppe Feola,
1 Sept 2016, 14:23