Transitions for the People: Theory and Practice of ‘Transition’ and ‘Resilience’ in the UK’s Transition Movement

This paper presents an exploratory case study of a new community-led sustainability initiative in the UK called the Transition movement. In recent months Transition movement groups have appeared in a significant number of UK towns with the stated aim of responding to the question: “how can our community respond to the challenges, and opportunities, of Peak Oil and Climate Change?” [Transition Network 2008]. The originators of the initiative have developed a “comprehensive and creative process” aimed at awareness raising, network building, and, eventually, a community-defined and community-led plan for a transition over a 15-20 year timescale.

The parallels to the transition management approach being pioneered in the Netherlands and elsewhere are immediate and fascinating, but are they merely superficial? What are the actual differences and similarities between this emerging civil society movement and academic discourse and research on sustainability transitions?

The resilience and transition frameworks are briefly presented as two ways of using a systems framing to understand, and inform, the governance of social and technical change in the context of sustainability. Using a combination of survey results, participant observation and documentary sources, we then explore how the terms transition and resilience are being used in the discourse of the Transition movement.  

The paper then explores the similarities and differences between how the terms are used in the academic literature versus the Transition movement.

Finally, the analysis is employed to generate insights about the practical use of the notions of transition and resilience in civil society contexts that involve “lay practitioners”, and how these insights in turn might inform research on transitions and resilience.

Haxeltine, A., and G. Seyfang

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Ideas & insights