STS - conferences, IST2012

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Local responses to global challenges. Urban neighborhoods as salient sites for transition insights.
Frank van Steenbergen, Julia Wittmayer, Derk Loorbach

Last modified: 2012-03-22


Today’s socio-economic landscape is in turmoil and our world faces prolonged austerity (O’Riordan 2012). The public debt crisis, an instable financial and economic system, climate change, an ageing population, weakened social ties and poverty are only some of the challenges that the world society faces on a global scale. These global challenges are manifesting themselves most apparent on the local scale, e.g. urban neighborhoods, communities, towns, cities and regions. It is at this scale were human agents most noticeably interact with global challenges and structures and where these are contested, destructed, reconstructed and thereby become ‘indigenized’ (Appadurai 1990) in one way or the other.

While a number of scholars in the transitions field explore global solutions (e.g. Walker et al 2009), our main foci in this paper is the urban neighborhood as a local site where global challenges are apparent, especially those with a strong social dimension. In 2011 researchers started a transition governance approach in Carnisse, a neighborhood in the south of Rotterdam with about 10.000 inhabitants. Carnisse is known as a deprived area and is characterized by poor infrastructures and persistent social-economic problems. It is in neighborhoods like these where the current crises, changing demographics and the withdrawal of the Western welfare state is felt most. At the same time individuals are expected to take more responsibility for their own and each other’s environment. With this paper, we aim to show the great impact of the changing landscape and the accompanying regime responses on the social life in these neighborhoods while exploring the ways in which the local scale deals with these imperative questions.

Based on empirical/action research, we show that new local solutions are rapidly emerging which bear the promise of a global systemic shift. Through these local solutions and experiments, it becomes apparent which actors are involved and how their corresponding roles and actions are being rediscovered and redefined. What can we learn from these experiments regarding the global challenges? What necessary shifts do they make apparent? Who is involved and what are their roles? Is it possible to deepen, broaden and upscale these experiments?


Appadurai, A. (1990) Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy. Theory, Culture and Society. 7: 295-310

O’Riordan, T. (2012) On social sustainability in a world of limits facing prolonged austerity. Sustainability: Science, Practice & Policy. 8(1): 1-2

Walker, B., Barrett, S., Polasky, S., Galaz, V., Folke, C., Engström, G., Ackerman, F., Arrow, K., Carpenter, S., Chopra, K., Daily, G., Ehrlich, P., Hughes, T., Kautsky, N., Levin, S., Mäler, K., Shogren, J., Vincent, J., Xepapadeas, T. & de Zeeuw, A. (2009) Looming Global-Scale Failures and Missing Institutions. Science 325(5946):1345-1346.