Critical Junctures: Challenges and Opportunities for ‘Great Green Transformations

Authors' Workshop

20-21 June 2022 | Online Event

Jointly organised by the Käte Hamburger Kolleg/Centre for Global Cooperation Research, University of Duisburg-Essen and the Governance of Green Transition Network, University of Copenhagen

Concept Note

It has become increasingly clear that ecological breakdown is not merely a physical phenomenon (e.g. IPCC 2021) but is in fact driven by human social organization and prevailing/hegemonic social institutions. This approach starts with the premise that there is a “need to understand how societies might collectively address climate change” (Newell and Paterson 2010:7 emphasis in the original), highlighting the significant role for research pertaining to global cooperation.

Many have likewise noted the criticality of addressing the distinction between transitional changes in social/economic institutions and transformational changes to societal development pathways (e.g. Eckersley 2021, Holscher, Wittmayer and Loorbach 2018). Drawing on the language of Karl Polanyi, analysts increasingly converge on the notion that the present situation calls not for discrete socio-technical transitions, but rather for a ‘great green transformation’ of core economic, political, and cultural formations. In this sense, the climate and ecological crises present humanity with a ‘critical juncture.’

This series of workshops aims to bring together an interdisciplinary group of scholars whose work contributes to these discussions in important ways. The overarching theoretical framework of transitions/transformations (Polanyi) combined with an empirically-grounded ambition to elicit analyses of insipient signs of transformational change, and also studies of social inertia that may be preventing action. Such can be brought together in forms of ‘conjunctural analysis’ (Stuart Hall), whereby analysts attempt to read hegemonic projects and counter-hegemonic tendencies
with a view to their short- and long-term implications for change.

The broader goals are to provide the space for robust engagement with the assumptions and realities of ‘green transformations’ including a critical treatment of what it would mean to think about ‘post-growth’ futures. What are the limitations and possibilities, for example, of the nation state in facilitating such transformations? What is happening on the ground in specific locations – in agriculture, energy cooperatives, workplaces, activist camps, international organizations, earth systems governance, and so on – as people work toward more sustainable futures?

The first iteration of the workshop series, held as a Zoom workshop on 6 and 7 December of 2021, was intended to begin the dialogue between the various invitees in order to collectively provide a foundation for moving forward. The second workshop will now be held 20 and 21 June 2022, with the goal of moving closer to working on an edited volume. Lastly, we will hold a third workshop with the goal of finalizing the contributions to the edited volume and, if possible, summary of what insights our collective work can provide for non-academic audiences (such as policy makers, for example). This will likely take place in early 2023.

We see this as a collaborative process of sharing current research that is empirically grounded and providing an opportunity to discuss the various assumptions and theories that undergird debates about ‘green transformations.’ In highlighting empirical work that allows participants to engage with localized applications of green transformations we hope that we may gain important insights into how such theories and assumptions are playing out in practice.