Research interests

I am concerned with understanding the social-ecological processes that lead to, or prevent, change toward sustainable socio-ecological configurations in different places.

1. Sustainability, resilience and transformation of agricultural systems

I engage with issues of sustainability, resilience and transformation of agricultural systems. I investigate vulnerability and adaptation to multiple environmental and economic disturbances, and the multi-scalar conditions, barriers and processes of agricultural responses to environmental and global change. I am interested in current and possible future transformations of rural regions, such as those involving peasant economies facing neoliberal agricultural models and environmental change, and the emergence of ‘alternative’ agricultural practices (e.g. organic agriculture, permaculture). These interests involve developing innovative theoretical frameworks and methods, and asking, for example: what determines the resilience of agricultural systems (from farm to regions)? How and why such systems transform along particular pathways, or persist in a particular state? How do cultural and institutional changes interconnect with environmental and technical ones? 

2. Sustainability transitions and post-capitalist transformations

I investigate the emergence and diffusion of novel social practices, alternative economies and grassroots innovations. Transnational networks of grassroots innovations have emerged both in the global North and South, and include, for example, Transition Towns, ecovillages, community-supported agriculture, permaculture, and voluntary simplicity. I am interested in the mechanisms through which grassroots innovations may generate societal change towards sustainability, the forms of such change, and why and how change occurs, or doesn’t, in particular places. I understand the ‘social’ to encompass the economic dimension, and I am especially interested in various forms of ‘actually existing’ transformations. Such experiments not only prefigure possible sustainable futures, but, most importantly, allow to observe the mechanisms of transformation, i.e. how transformations unfold in different places and regions. I am also interested in the cultural basis of these alternatives, which is to be found, for example, in principles of sufficiency and regeneration, and which place them in contrast with growth-oriented, extractivist and accumulative models of development. The research questions related to this research focus revolve around the ‘where’ and ‘how’ of grassroots-led transformations; for example: why do transformations occur in one place and not in another? How do place, space and scale influence processes of alternative transformation? How do such processes re-make places and spaces both socially (symbolically) and materially (environmentally)?

3. Theories of social-ecological change and sustainability

Cutting across the two above mentioned research themes, I am interested in how social change theories can be harnessed to understand and inform change towards sustainability. I examine how different theoretical approaches frame change towards sustainability, e.g. the questions they pose, the blind spots they may have, and the methods they connect to. I am also interested in better understanding, and promoting good practice in interdisciplinary research in the social sciences and across natural and social sciences.    

Methodologically my research is interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary, and employs a range of qualitative and quantitative methods. I have got a particular interest in the Andean region in South America.

On-going projects

Societal transformation to sustainability through the unmaking of capitalism? A comparative study of radical grassroots innovations (PI)

Governing sustainable agri-food systems in Colombia (PI)

Key publications (in reverse chronological order)

Feola, G. (In press). Capitalism in sustainability transitions research: Time for a critical turn? Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions. DOI: 10.1016/j.eist.2019.02.005 [open access]

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. 

Feola, G., Binder, C.R. 2010. Towards an improved understanding of farmers’ behaviour: the integrative agent-centred (IAC) frameworkEcological Economics, 69(12):2323-2333. 

Binder, C.R., Feola, G., Steinberger, J. 2010Considering the normative, systemic and procedural dimensions in indicator-based sustainability assessments in agriculture. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 30(2):71-81.