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Elucidating the changing roles of civil society in urban sustainability transitions

Civil society organisations already play a significant role in the reality of cities, what remains to be explored is the question: what is the role of civil society in the future sustainability of European cities? We aim to answer that question in a truly co-produced paper across 4 core projects (ARTS, TRANSIT, GLAMURS, TESS) and many adjacent projects.
 
Understanding the diversifying role of civil society in Europe’s sustainability pathway is a valid proposition both scientifically and socially. Many debates and amounting evidence show that it is a question to ask, but what research can say about it? This article took 2 years of hard work with 1081 papers reviewed, 105 papers (from 2010-2016) discussed and clustered, more than 80 contemporary urban case studies in reference, and 21 authors aligned and deepening critical comments, inputs, reflections and theoretical insights.
 
We first examine the novelty of new forms of civil society organization based on a review of recent case studies of civil society initiatives for sustainable transitions across a diversity of European projects, and on an extensive literature review. We conceptualize roles that civil society plays and the tensions these roles entail. We argue that civil society initiatives can pioneer new social relations and practices and can therefore be an integral part of urban transformations. Civil society can fill the void left by a retreating welfare state, thereby safeguarding and servicing social needs but also backing up such a rolling back of the welfare state.
 
This makes civil society an rather active agent in urban transitions extending its role beyond civil advocacy. Civil society can act as a hidden innovator—contributing to sustainability but remaining disconnected from the wider society. This comes with risks of being proliferated by political agendas, which endanger its role and social mission, being peeled off and remaining exhausted from over-exposure. We conclude with a series of implications for future research on the roles of civil society in urban sustainability transitions.
 
Authors

Frantzeskaki, N., Dumitru, A., Anguelovski, I., Avelino, F., Bach, M., Best, B., Binder, C., Barnes, J., Carrus, J., Egermann, M., Haxeltine, A., Moore, M.L., Mira, R.G., Loorbach, D., Uzzell, D., Omman, I., Olsson, P., Silvestri, G., Stedman, R., Wittmayer, J., Durrant, R., and Rauschmeyer, F., (2016)

 

Title

Elucidating the changing roles of civil society in urban sustainability transitions, Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 22, 41-50.

 

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Date
June 1, 2017