World Café Day Three Morning (R2)

Speakers: Daniel Peter, Sherman Farhad, Mirjam Schleiffer, Marta Nieto-Romero, Marta Varanda


Disruptive agency dynamics in urban sustainability transformations – A conceptual approach for studying insider-outsider relations in urban mobility systems
Daniel Peter

Human agency plays an essential role for societal transformations since people are in some perspective fundamentally the initiators and carriers of societal change. Large scale societal change, as sustainability transformation currently requires, is posed with challenging or even disrupting what is currently normal, daily routine and structurally given. This process of disruptive change necessarily has to be started and continually enforced by a variety of actors. These have been diversely categorized for exmaple as niche agents, different types of entrepreneurs, activists, intermediaries or just generally as forerunners or change agents. Conceptions of the specific agency these agents posess are still dispersed and partially only vaguely developed. To contribute to advancing our understanding of agency, in this presentation the insider-outsider dichotomy is applied to a novel conception of disruptive agency as the ability of agents to act with the intention of disrupting a social system in order to transform it purposefully. It is taken the stance that this disruptive agency is performed by a variety of heterogeneous agents who necessarily are in epistemic, behavioural or institutional regard outsiders to the reference system they want to change. In sustainability transformations, this disruptivity of outsiders is inherent to the process and required. The co-constitutive interplay between disruptive agency and the relations on one side between different types of outsiders and on the other side between outsiders and insiders is conceptually explored and discussed in the context of an ongoing comparative case city of transforming mobility systems in three German cities. The presentation contributes to an enriched conceptual understanding of the processes and normativities involved in the agency of change agents in sustainability transformations. Further, by incorporating empirically grounded insights about the dynamic relations between outsiders and insiders naturally occuring in these transformative processes, consequences for change agents’ strategies and interventions are suggested.

Ecosystem services governance: A cross-realm lever for sustainability transformation
Sherman Farhad

The leverage points perspective is used increasingly in sustainability transformation research to foster change and to accelerate progress towards sustainability. Three realms of leverage for the sustainability research agenda have been proposed: human-environment interactions; institutional dynamics, and sustainability-related knowledge creation and use. However, studies aiming to better understand the role of cross-realm levers, which create parallel change in human-nature interactions, institutions, and knowledge production and use, remain scarce. To address this research gap, here we provide a conceptual framework to investigate the potential for “Ecosystem Services Governance” to serve as a cross-realm lever. More specifically, through theoretical and empirical analyses we: 1) identify the key features of the three sustainability transformation realms and analyze the way “Ecosystem Services Governance” can support them; 2) exemplify the role of “Ecosystem Services Governance” as a cross-realm lever for sustainability transformation using a case study from Agua Blanca (Ecuador); 3) navigate intra-realm dynamics, identifying features from diverse realms that may simultaneously be fostered by “Ecosystem Services Governance”; and, 4) ultimately, contribute to the transformation, ecosystem services, and governance literatures by highlighting specific “Ecosystem Services Governance” enabling mechanisms that can facilitate cross-realm sustainability transformation interventions.

Crafting narratives: Interest groups using the concept of biodiversity to promote their agendas
Mirjam Schleiffer

The term “biodiversity” is loaded with power, but is sufficiently undefined that it can be used, or abused, to promote individual agendas. As part of the Horizon Europe project Planet4B, we examine the discourse on biodiversity in publications from academia, mainstream media, major political parties, NGOs, and industry in eight European countries to gain an understanding of how the term is used by interest groups. The results show that Biodiversity can be assigned anthropocentric, ecocentric, or science centred values; depending on the interests of the user. A range of rhetoric functions were identified, with biodiversity being used to inform, persuade, accuse, entertain, raise hope, give warning, or create otherness. The multiplicity of rhetoric functions stems from the freedom of users to define the term how they please, and the lack of understanding within the wider community of what the term actually means. This allows the power of biodiversity to be used to motivate behavioural change in others, such as by conservation organizations, as a weapon for political point scoring, such as by political parties, or to justify a continuation of business as usual, such as by industry. Identifying how the term is used and abused is a step towards reclaiming biodiversity, so it can stop being used to muddy the waters and greenwash unsustainable behaviour, but rather be used as a power to promote transformation to sustainable practice.

Climate change or overexploitation? Facilitating transformative governance configurations in an overexploited aquifer in South Portugal
Marta Nieto-Romero, Marta Varanda

This communication will report on the process and results of participatory research aiming at facilitating a change in the governance of water so it transforms unsustainable relations to water. The research is implemented in an overexploited aquifer located in a region affected by climate change: Campina de Faro aquifer in the Algarve region (South Portugal). On the one hand, this communication will tell the story of how climate change is used to perpetrate groundwater overexploitation; including the policies and actions deployed by the multiple policy agencies with responsibility over water use, the existing conflictual claims and discourses and the negative effects on people and nature. Overexploited by a flourishing agricultural sector based on irrigated crops for export, and luxury tourism villas around golfs, most policies are leaning towards the increase of supply of other water origins, such as treated water or desalination. These technological solutions do not tackle the demand side of the problem, reinforcing current patterns of resource use and social inequalities. On the other hand, we will develop a critical analysis of our own participatory research. More than two years after the start of the project, stakeholders agreed that a collective entity (in a format not yet defined) should be developed to facilitate cooperation between sectors and with public management institutions. However, lock-ins of transformation exist, such as the mistrust of small farmers on research, the power of millionaire residents, legislation that privatizes groundwater, and the power of engineers’ academics, among others. Thus, we reflect back on the assumptions of the project since the start and how they have evolved to derive key learnings. By doing so, we seek to facilitate a debate around the following question: can the current contexts and frames of actions within research projects and academics facilitate truly transformative research? If so, how?