Transition : a force in the Great Turning?
This thesis is set in the context of our world confronting significant socio-ecological crises. Given the anthropogenic causes of these crises, we are at a critical point in determining the state of the planet for future generations (Climate Council 2014; Hamilton 2013; Westley et al. 2011). Of the many conceptual frameworks which refer to this time as one of potential transition and transformation, I situate this thesis within ‘the Great Turning’, as articulated by Joanna Macy (2007). The Great Turning provides a comprehensive and theoretically-based framework for conceptualising a shift from an industrial growth society, dependent on accelerating consumption of resources, to a life-sustaining society. It is comprised of three interrelated and mutually reinforcing dimensions which Macy (2007) describes as: i) holding actions (activism); ii) creation of alternative structures; and iii) a shift in consciousness. The focus of my research is the Transition movement which, in response to the multiple crises we face, is designed to build resilience and reduce carbon emissions in local communities. Since 2006, when Transition Town Totnes, England was launched as the first official Transition Initiative, Transition has spread rapidly to over 1120 Initiatives in 42 countries, with 88 Initiatives in Australia (Transition Network 2013). Informed by the principles of relocalisation, Transition Initiatives address key aspects of a community such as food, housing, energy, transport, waste, economics and health. Other features include an emphasis on positive visioning, inclusion and openness, sharing and networking, Inner and Outer Transition, re-skilling, self-organisation, and decision-making at the appropriate level (Hopkins 2011). My over-arching research question considers the ways in which Transition is a force in the Great Turning. In particular, I consider the extent to which Transition is replicating existing paradigms and structures or challenging and re-imagining them; whether Transition is engaged in transformation or whether it is ultimately reformist as it sets up a potentially radical alternative to the dominant paradigm. These questions frame the fieldwork which is located in Australia, and includes a focus on Inner Transition. I conducted 30 interviews with active Transition participants, and representatives from 32 Transition Initiatives completed a qualitative survey. The semi-structured interview questions and open-ended survey questions were designed to elicit the participants’ reflections on their lived experiences of Transition. My analysis, using feminist methodologies, is thematic and emergent. My original contribution to knowledge is through analysing Transition using feminist and complexity theoretical frameworks (for example Wells 2013; Sturgeon 2009; Morin 2008; Shiva 2005; Plumwood 2002) and my subsequent findings. These conceptual lenses offer critical, divergent, and complementary means for analysing Transition as a force in the Great Turning. Transition has been designed using a whole systems approach which is congruent with many principles of complexity. From this perspective, its networked design enhances its ability to become an effective force for change, particularly in catalysing emergence and innovation. However, one of the main constraints that Australian Transition Initiatives face, which is common to third sector organisations, is maintaining aspirations commensurate with their capacities as volunteers who lead busy lives. This is often addressed through relationship building between participants, community groups, local government, local businesses and the broader community. The co-evolution that can occur through these relationships greatly enhances the effectiveness of local Transition Initiatives. Also, it was evident in the research data, that many Transition participants in Australia are experienced in community development and/or permaculture. More explicit utilisation of these knowledge bases could provide a greater coherence for Transition in Australia, particularly in terms of effecting change and adapting Transition to the Australian context. Transition confronts many complex issues as it creates visions and possibilities for local, low carbon futures. The inclusion of Inner Transition is a differentiating feature of the movement; however, in both the research data and the Transition literature, Inner Transition is largely marginalised relative to the emphasis placed on Outer Transition or action. I suggest that Inner Transition is an under-utilised opportunity for Transition to interrogate existing paradigms and challenge reductionist, dualistic thinking. Eco/feminist lenses particularly illuminated issues related to power, process, gender and the inter-relationship between the local and the global. Interviewees generally did not identify their participation in Transition as political and few participants explicitly discussed issues of power, either within their Initiatives or in their engagement with the community. Where such concerns are unproblematised, this raises questions about the extent and depth of change sought by Transition. I found that, if it is to be a force in the Great Turning, explicit attention to process and the relational elements of Transition could be accorded far greater importance. Complexity and eco/feminist approaches assert the need to adopt an ecological worldview predicated on interdependence and mutuality instead of the current reductive dominant worldview. For Transition to be a sustained force in the Great Turning, it would need to consider the implications of embracing an ecological worldview at all levels of scale. In considering the extent to which Transition is a force in the Great Turning, it can be seen that it is contributing significantly to the second dimension of creating alternative structures. The emphasis on the first dimension of holding actions is less of a focus for the Transition network, and more likely to be stronger in some local Initiatives dependent on participants’ leanings and their contexts. I suggest that if the approaches taken by Transition in both these dimensions are not underpinned by the third dimension, a shift in consciousness, then its potency within the framework of the Great Turning is diminished. Where Transition remains alert to the need for ongoing critical analysis of whether its principles and values are reflected in practice, its impact as a force for transformational change will be strengthened.