April 2019 to March 2023
In the sustainability discourse, community-based initiatives have been increasingly present for several years, e.g. in the form of eco-villages, transition towns, green cities, or solidarity-based agriculture. In this context, it is often precisely communities like these that are addressed as actors. They are intended to test transformation processes on a small scale and develop solutions to what is declared as the challenges of the future, thus paving the way to a sustainable future – also for society as a whole. At the same time, initiatives related to the topic of “sustainability” often explicitly conceptualise themselves as communities. Research has so far failed to take sufficient account of the complexity of both the concept and the phenomenon of “community” in the context of sustainability: At times, communities have been ascribed, without further questions, agency and the potential to initiate change. Others considered “communities” simply as a negative counter-model to a society of responsible subjects.
For some years now, however, there has been a striving for a distinguished perspective, to which our project also feels committed. With the project “Transformation by Community” we want to offer a theoretically guided as well as empirically grounded discussion about the emergence and impact of sustainability communities. Using three current initiatives as examples, on the one hand, we would like to reconstruct what makes communities attractive for politics, scholarship, and practice. On the other hand, we want to explore whether transformative potential is inherent in these communities and what this potential consists of. In cooperation with the three practical initiatives, we want to provide perspectives and knowledge for politics and society, as well as for the communities themselves, and, in doing so, have a focus on the following questions: How do communities develop as collective subjects of sustainable development with the help of artefacts and technologies? What are the intended and unintended effects of these communities, both internally and externally? How are these effects to be assessed with regard to the sustainability-oriented transformation of society?
The selected empirical cases – Escheroder “gASTWERKe”, Dorfgemeinschaft Oberndorf and Solidarische Landwirtschaft Oldendorf e.V. (all located in Northern Germany) – shall be analysed using five different approaches, namely discourse analysis, praxeology, history, feminist economics, and psychology. In the course of the project, these academic perspectives will regularly enter into a dialogue not only with each other, but also with the examined communities, in order to inform and challenge each other – across disciplinary boundaries, points of view, and types of knowledge.
The joint project promises to shed light on the conditions under which communities form themselves into collective subjects, the extent to which they develop transformative power in this process, and the social and political consequences associated with this. In this way, it will enable a reflective approach to the processes of collective subjectivation in sustainability-related academic, social, and political practice.