RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2018

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342 Re-reading geographical landscapes of community action for environmental sustainability
Convenor(s) Will Eadson (Sheffield Hallam University, UK)
Mike Foden (Keele University, UK)
Chair(s) Jennifer Dickie (University of Stirling, UK)
Timetable Friday 31 August 2018, Session 3 (14:40 - 16:20)
Room Glamorgan Building - Seminar Room -1.80
Session abstract There is now an established literature investigating the role of community action in achieving change towards more environmentally sustainable societies. Prominent themes include the diverse roles of grassroots endeavours in enacting change against or on the margins of prevailing political and economic norms (Seyfang and Smith, 2007; North, 2011; Markantoni and Woolvin, 2015; Smith et al, 2016; Haf and Parkhill, 2017; Van Veelen, 2017), as well as an emerging literature engaging critically with the deployment/co-optation of community as a vehicle for governmental policy goals (Creamer, 2015; Taylor Aiken, 2015). While acknowledging the important contributions of this body of work, this session seeks to provoke debate about the diverse spatial relations underlying what community does and how, inviting questions as to the implications and contradictions of scale and scale-breaking, place, networks, boundary construction and deconstruction. Each paper explores and problematises taken-for-granted spatial categorisations of community: for instance community as place, as scale of action, and – more broadly – as bounded entity.
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: ac2018@rgs.org
Examining the shift from ‘community energy’ to ‘local energy’
Emily Creamer (The University of Edinburgh, UK)
To date, the typical model of “community energy” in the UK has been to connect community-owned wind turbines or solar panels to the national grid, generating revenues that are returned directly to community investors or reinvested into community projects via a local development group. Following revisions to subsidies and tax relief for small-scale renewable energy projects in 2015, communities can no longer rely on this as an economically viable model.
There has been a subsequent move to reframe and redefine the role of ‘the local’ within the UK energy system, and there has been a transition from ‘community’ to ‘local’ in much of the language of decentralised energy in the UK. This shift is generally framed as a broadening of both the geographical boundary of the project and the type of actors involved, rather than any explicit differences in the aims or purpose of local’ and ‘community’ projects. There remains uncertainty about exactly what this apparently subtle shift in terminology represents in practice.
This paper explores the emerging landscape of ‘local energy’ activity in the UK, and considers the conception and manifestation of ‘the local’ in both policy and practice. In particular, the paper examines the extent to which communities remain empowered within this new conception of the local.
What ghosts and what machines? The role of meditation in producing collective being in community movements
Gerald Taylor Aiken (University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg)
Benedikt Schmid (University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg)
Community movement research reports participants engaging in mind-body practices as part of personal habits or belief systems. Meditation, yoga and other spiritual practices are predominantly observed as technologies of the self (Carvalho, 2017). Others attribute a fundamentally material role to mind-body practices for projects of radical social transformation (Aron & Aron, 1986; Cox Hall, 2017; Rowe, 2017). This paper seeks to explore the correlation of meditation and activism, and does so in a way that drills down into the links between, perceptions of, and contradictions within meditative practices and community-based activism. On the surface, it can seem strange that collective movements, committed to change in the ‘real world’, outward-facing and very much public correlate with meditative practices: individual and personal actions – ‘private’. However, as this paper will show, this veneer of disjuncture could exist more in perception than in effect. So called ‘private’ meditation is a spiritual practice that challenges the idea of the (private) in-divide-ual self to its core: It brings an ‘inside’ outside. Supposedly ‘public’ collectives and community movements turn to inner transformation and the self. They bring an ‘outside’ inside. Rather, this paper takes a spiritually-informed perspective, which starts from the presumption that any and every separation is a constructed perception —and hence possibly false. Borrowing from Jean-Luc-Nancy, the notion of constructed oneness is used to frame the spacing of self and other in community movements (Gibson-Graham, 2006; Nancy, 1991). Meditation is discussed as sublation of self/other in practice and thus as material moment of radical social transformation.
Assembling communities and holding them in place for providing and managing urban green space
Will Eadson (Sheffield Hallam University, UK)
Ellen Bennett (Sheffield Hallam University, UK)
Urban greenspace has myriad functions: well-managed green spaces contribute to biodiversity, flood alleviation, act as carbon sinks, and can play a role in reducing urban heat island effects (Wolch et al, 2014). Engaging with green space can increase the environmental awareness of residents (Swanwick et al, 2004). And efforts to promote the importance of urban greens pace have also drawn attention to its potential role in economic growth (Gore et al, 2013) and health and wellbeing impacts (Lee and Maheswaran, 2011, Medford, 2012). Yet, urban green space, both new and established, informal and formal, is precariously held, often initially a product of negotiated ‘commoning’ from private interests and also regularly subject to debates about its value to urban interests. It is held ‘in place’ by continued negotiation between different interest groups but until recently more or less universally underpinned by common ownership through urban governments. This underpinning security has become increasingly challenged as local fiscal constraints have led to a reconsideration of green space as urban assets in light of their on-going maintenance costs. Community mobilisation around green space has often sought to provide ballast to waning local government support at the same time as fostering a ‘community commons’ perspective on local green space. The empirical analysis in this paper – taken from two empirical studies of community green space action in the UK – opens up debates about how such communities are produced, assembled and held together in relation to green space, with a particular focus on their relation to urban stakeholders and the concept of ‘the urban’ more generally. It seeks to re-read / problematise notions of communities as bounded entities or sites through a relational perspective on community-urban connections, entanglements and negotiations.