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Bottom-up sustainability transformations : Supporting local actors fostering change towards sustainability

  • Despite growing research on sustainability transformations, our understanding of how transformative transdisciplinary research can support local actors who foster change towards sustainability is still somewhat limited. To contribute to this research question, I conducted research in a transdisciplinary case study in Southern Transylvania, where non-governmental organizations (NGO) drive sustainability initiatives to foster desired changes (e.g., supporting small-scale farmers or conserving natural and cultural heritage). Interactions with these local actors and reflections on my research question shaped the research of this dissertation, which I present in four papers. In paper 1, I conducted a literature review on amplification processes that describe actions, which local actors can apply to increase the impact of their sustainability initiatives. This is of interest in sustainability transformations research and practice because the impact of initiatives challenges incumbent regimes and consequently prepares transformations. I developed an integrated typology of amplification processes, which introduces new and innovative ways to conceptualize and study how initiatives increase their impact. The typology integrates theoretical insights on amplification processes from different frameworks that draw on diverse theories, such as resilience theory on transformations of social-ecological systems or sustainability transitions theory on transitions of socio-technical systems. This typology combines contemporary conceptualizations of amplification processes, informs transdisciplinary researchers working with local actors on increasing impact from initiatives, and has inspired debate and empirical research which contributes to theory development concerning amplifying impact of initiatives in diverse contexts. In paper 2, I conducted a literature review on the application of indigenous and local knowledge (ILK) in sustainability transformations research to understand whether this research engages with the conceptualization of transformations from local actors. The results show that ILK is generally applied to confirm and complement scientific knowledge in contexts of environmental, climate, social-ecological, and species change. Only four out of 81 papers (5%) applied ILK to conduct research on transformations. In addition, I identified four research clusters that apply ILK in contexts of transformation, transition, or change in Arctic, terrestrial, coastal, and grass and rangelands environments. Consequently, the review shows that only few empirical studies apply ILK to understand transformations. This indicates that sustainability transformations research lacks to include knowledge from local actors to conceptualize transformations, such as in the case of ILK. This has the potential to question scientific conceptualizations of transformations for theory development (e.g., resilience theory on transformations of social-ecological systems) and to enrich transformative transdisciplinary research. In paper 3, I derived principles that provide guidance for how to integrate sustainability initiatives from local actors in transformative transdisciplinary research. Based on my transdisciplinary research with the NGOs in Southern Transylvania and by using systems and futures thinking as an approach for analysis, I derived three principles that provide guidance for the co-design of sustainability intervention strategies that build on, strengthen, and complement existing initiatives from local actors. These principles contribute to transformative transdisciplinary research by highlighting and operationalizing the need to integrate initiatives from local actors to foster bottom-up, place-based transformations. In paper 4, I explored empirically how to identify relevant local actors for collaborations that seek to intervene in specific characteristics of a system (e.g., parameters or design of a system). I applied a leverage points’ perspective to analyse the social networks of the NGOs in Southern Transylvania that amplify the impact of their initiatives. My results suggest that there are two types of local actors for potential collaborations: local actors who have the ability to intervene in both shallow (i.e., parameters and feedbacks of a system) and deep (i.e., design and intent of a system) system characteristics, and local actors who have the ability to intervene only in specific system characteristics. In addition, my results indicate that the application of specific amplification processes is associated with the positions of local actors in their networks. Thus, paper 4 provides a novel methodological approach and first empirical insights for identifying potential relevant partners for specific system interventions. This supports in transformative transdisciplinary research the categorization of relations and networks of local actors according to the system characteristics that they address, and the selection of relevant partners for specific system interventions. This dissertation as a whole contributes insights to three recommendations of how transformative transdisciplinary research can support local actors fostering change towards sustainability: First, by conducting research that studies and supports local actors who increase the impact of their sustainability initiatives via amplification processes (Paper 1 and 4); Second, by engaging specifically with the initiatives, networks, and knowledge from local actors, who foster bottom-up, place-based transformations (Paper 1-4); Third, by identifying and collaborating with local actors that are relevant for strategic systems interventions that build on, strengthen, and complement existing initiatives (Paper 3-4). These three recommendations pave the way for an enhanced transformative transdisciplinary research that can potentially support local actors who with their initiatives, networks, and knowledge foster bottom-up, place-based sustainability transformations.

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Author:David Patrick Michael LamORCiDGND
URL: https://pub-data.leuphana.de/frontdoor/index/index/docId/1117
Advisor:Daniel J. Lang (Prof. Dr.)
Referee:Daniel J. Lang (Prof. Dr.)ORCiDGND, Berta Martin Lopez (Prof. Dr.)ORCiD, Juliana Mercon (Dr.)GND
Document Type:Doctoral Thesis
Year of Completion:2021
Date of Publication (online):2021/02/24
Date of first Publication:2021/03/03
Publishing Institution:Leuphana Universität Lüneburg, Universitätsbibliothek der Leuphana Universität Lüneburg
Granting Institution:Leuphana Universität Lüneburg
Date of final exam:2020/12/22
Release Date:2021/03/03
Pagenumber:76 Seiten
Das Rahmenpapier der kumulativen Dissertation enthält 4 Beiträge
Institutes:Fakultät Nachhaltigkeit / Institut für Ethik und Transdisziplinäre Nachhaltigkeitsforschung (IETSR)
Dewey Decimal Classification:3 Sozialwissenschaften / 33 Wirtschaft / 333.7 Natürliche Ressourcen, Energie und Umwelt
Licence (German):License LogoDeutsches Urheberrecht