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Kicking-off the new TransAct HotSpot: raising questions!

Date of news: 1 March 2022

Issue 1

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TransAct has officially started! During the first meeting, around 20 IMR-researchers from different departments started the discussion on transformation for sustainability. Not that surprisingly, more questions and dilemmas emerged than were answered. Fortunately, as that gives us ample work for the coming six years! So, what did we discuss?

What is transformation? Conceptual challenges!

There are many definitions of transformative change/transformations. However, it remains unclear when exactly change can be considered ‘transformative’? At what scale does the change need to take place, e.g., can local change ever be transformative? And how to scale up transformation at macro levels? What about the relationship between incremental and transformative change; can incremental change accumulate to transformative change? How to rethink quantification to make transformation tangible? Plenty of conceptual challenges to discuss during seminars, reading groups and method workshops.

Transformation as a discourse: moving from an ideology to a fact?


Transformative change for sustainability demands a rethinking of the (often naturalised) values, ideas and meaning systems (=discourse) that underly current institutions and structures. How do these naturalised discourses (i.e., meanings that are considered to be 'real’ and unchangeable) reproduce and stabilise meaning? What does it take to rethink ‘naturalised’ values and ideas (e.g., the role of dislocation events and social movements)? How do ‘new’ ideas and norms travel spatially and temporally? How are they eventually taken up and adjusted in different contexts? How can transformative change for sustainability move from a ‘ideology’ to a fact; or shouldn't it? Should it stay an open and adaptive discourse that adjusts to changing circumstances and goals? Enough food for thought for the upcoming seminars and hopefully plenty of inspiration for research projects.

How to achieve transformative governance?

How to achieve these transformations is of course the big question. We need to analyse what the role of institutions is (e.g., property and land rights) in enabling or hindering transformations. How can we achieve transformative governance?  What are the trade-offs between inclusiveness and sustainable transformations? How much ‘inclusiveness’ is needed to achieve sustainable transformation? Is it enough to script sustainability in prices (i.e., lower prices for “sustainable” products), or in how far should there be a deliberative process? Who should we engage with? How to reach unusual suspects as big corporations, that have a huge impact, for the best or the worst, on transformation?

The next steps: collaborations

The previous questions are conceptual and academic. To work on possible answers, the kick-off confirmed that, first, the need for multidisciplinarity, and rethinking the role of different disciplines. Second, the need to collaborate in innovative ways with societal partners. The HotSpot-members think it is essential to co-create the research agenda together with societal partners. In the next 6 years, we will explore these questions (and many more) through different activities, such as seminars, reading groups, method workshops, stakeholder dialogues, co-development of research projects, etc.

Contact us if you have suggestions or want to collaborate: transact@ru.nl.