GreenDependent Intézet

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Chapter 1 –

Introduction: the Nexus of Social Innovation, Sustainable Consumption and Societal Transformation

Julia Backhaus, Audley Genus, and Julia Wittmayer

Chapter 2

Conceptualising the Role of Social Innovation in Sustainability Transformations

Alex Haxeltine, Flor Avelino, Julia Wittmayer, Iris Kunze, Noel Longhurst, Adina Dumitru, and Tim O’ Riordan

Chapter 3

The Idea(l) of a ‘Sustainable Sharing Economy’: Four Social Science Perspectives on Transformative Change

Julia Backhaus, Harro van Lente, and René Kemp

Chapter 4

Societal Transformation, Social Innovations and Sustainable Consumption in an Era of Metamorphosis

Michael Jonas

Chapter 5

Local Authorities and their Development of New Governance Approaches: Distilling Lessons from a Social Innovation Project

Marcelline Bonneau and François Jégou

Chapter 6

Hitting a Policy wall: the Transformative Potential and Limitations of Community Pick-Up Point Schemes

Keighley MacFarland and Julia Wittmayer

Chapter 7

Community Energy as a site for Social Innovation

Iain Soutar

Chapter 8

Community Agriculture and the Narrative Construction of Change

Emese Gulyás and Bálint Balázs

Chapter 9

Towards Sustainable Practices: a Practice-theoretical Case Study of a Cohousing Project

Michaela Leitner and Beate Littig

Chapter 10

The Search for Social Innovations that are within Ecological Limits as well as more Just

Edina Vadovics and Simon Milton

Chapter 11

North-American Perspectives of Societal Transformation

Philip J. Vergragt 

Chapter 12

Commentary from a Japanese Perspective: Tapping into Traditions for Transitions and Societal Transformations

Satoru Mizuguchi 

Chapter 13 -

Conclusions: How Social Innovations Become Transformative and Help Increase Sustainability

Edina Vadovics and Sylvia Lorek



Chapter Two: Conceptualising the role of social innovation in sustainability transformations

Alex Haxeltine, Flor Avelino, Julia Wittmayer, Iris Kunze, Noel Longhurst, Adina Dumitru, and Tim O’Riordan

This chapter explores the nexus of social innovation and societal transformation, conceptualised specifically in terms of sustainability transformations. The chapter conceptualises the role of social innovation in sustainability transformations, drawing upon the cases of the Transition Movement, Global Ecovillage Network, Slow Food, and Credit Unions as examples of social innovations with sustainability ambitions. Because of the systemic nature of the challenge, social innovation initiatives that directly influence sustainability transformations need explicit political tactics and strategies to challenge, alter, replace or supplement the dominant institutional arrangements that are reproducing the current ‘unsustainability’ dynamic, and thereby take the form of transformative social innovations.

Key words: transformative social innovation, sustainability transformations, institutions, institutional change, institutionalisation, Transition Movement, Global Ecovillage Network, Slow Food, Credit Union, social relations


Chapter Three: The idea(l) of a ‘sustainable sharing economy’: four social science perspectives on transformative change

Julia Backhaus, Harro van Lente and Rene Kemp


While the sharing economy is high on the agenda, a ‘sustainable sharing economy’ remains a contested and elusive concept, albeit evoked by a plethora of social innovation initiatives within and across different sectors. This chapter sets out to investigate the sustainability and transformative potentials of the sharing economy based on four different conceptual approaches (social practice theories, socio-technical transitions, neo-institutionalism and Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation). It is argued that a realisation of sustainability potentials of sharing initiatives, especially when seeking to enhance social and environmental justice, requires supportive measures that open opportunities and free capacities for engagement and participation.


Key words: institutionalism, sharing economy, social practices, socio-technical transitions, theories of change, transformative social innovation, Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation


Chapter Four: Societal Transformation, Social Innovations and Sustainable Consumption in an Era of Metamorphosis

Michael Jonas

In current political debates, it is often argued that climate change and other societal crises require fundamental processes to transform dominating practice/order configurations. Starting from a practice theory perspective, relevant approaches and concepts from the debate about societal transformation, (social) innovation research and sustainability research will be discussed and combined. A suggestion for how to grasp the relationships between societal transformation, social innovations and sustainable consumption in an era of metamorphosis will likewise be elaborated using clear-cut concepts.

Key words: societal transformation, social innovation, sustainable consumption, practice theory, practice/arrangement configuration, sustainable forms of life, metamorphosis, cosmopolitan public sphere, multiple crises, exploitation of nature


Chapter Five: Local authorities and their development of new governance approaches: distilling lessons from a social innovation project

Marcelline Bonneau and François Jégou

This chapter seeks to address institutional transformation, which contributes to societal transformation: what is the role of city administrations in changing the governance of their city towards co-creation with citizens? And what are the enabling elements for such a process? We are combining two schools of thought, reflexive governance and public administration in order to analyse two cases: Amersfoort in the Netherlands, advanced in designing a collaborative city administration, and Gdańsk in Poland, taking initial steps for responsibility sharing.

key words: social innovation, societal transformation, public administration, collaborative governance, participation, grounded theory method


Chapter Six: Hitting a policy wall: The transformative potential and limitations of Community Pick-Up Point Schemes

Keighley McFarland, Julia Wittmayer

This chapter considers Community Pick-Up Point Schemes (CPPSs), a novel type of Alternative Food Network, as a social innovation and empirically investigates their transformative potential vis-a-vis the dominant food system through a case study of Food Assembly Germany. Taking a transformative social innovation perspective, we found that CPPSs do challenge, alter and/or replace dominant institutions. However, two important limits are the reliance on predicaments of political consumerism and an a-political strategy not targeting dominant policy-related institutions.

Key words: food systems, alternative food networks, sustainable transformation, social innovation, sustainable consumption


Chapter Seven: Community energy as a site for social innovation

Iain Soutar

This chapter discusses the relationship between social innovation, as manifested within the UK community energy movement, and transformative change towards a more sustainable energy system. In what ways are forms of social innovation (SI) manifested within CE? How have different aspects of SI within CE emerged within the CE movement? And to what degree can SI of this kind contribute both to sustainable consumption and to processes of transformation? In tackling these questions the chapter both draws on and enriches existing conceptualisation of SI as new ways of organising, knowing, framing and doing that challenge, alter or replace established institutions.

Key words: Community energy, Technological innovation, Social innovation, Transformation


Chapter Eight: Community Agriculture and the Narrative Construction of Change

Emese Gulyás and Balint Balázs

Our research investigated how consumers can contribute to the creation and spread of social innovations represented by community agriculture. Applying the narratives of change analytical framework we inquired why consumers consider change as necessary, who is or who could be driving change and how change is occurring. The analysis of our qualitative and quantitative data revealed that the mutually shared narratives about the necessity of change, the shared vision of empowered individuals about sustainability and social justice, trust and rich social links as diffusion potential are fundamental drivers for systemic changes in the field of food systems, production and consumption

Key words: community agriculture, grassroots innovation, food democracy, ethical consumption


Chapter Nine: Towards Sustainable Practices - A practice-theoretical case study of a cohousing project

Michaela Leitner, Beate Littig 

This case study of a sustainability oriented cohousing project in Vienna takes a practice theoretical approach and shows that the new organisation of everyday practices follows two interlinked goals: the collectivisation and the sustainability-oriented organisation of practices. The research demonstrates that the innovative reorganisation of everyday life leads to change, but also to persistence of practices. The discussion explains how and why practices have changed, why they persist and under which conditions changes are more likely. These findings are then related to the debate about the transformative potential of innovative socio-ecological experiments on the niche level.

Key words: cohousing, socio-ecological transformation, practice theory, sustainable practices, multi-method case study, social innovation, gender, sustainable conduct/forms of life


Chapter Ten:  The search for social innovations that are within ecological limits as well as more just

Edina Vadovics, Simon Milton


In recent years, social innovation (SI) has become an increasingly important topic in discussions about the transition towards a more sustainable society, and, controversially, sustaining economic growth. Further, SI is almost automatically seen as a way of creating more sustainable practices and lifestyles, justifying the need for a more thorough analysis of SI initiatives. The objective of this chapter is to contribute to this dialogue through introducing ‘Convergence Mapping’, an analytical system which can be used to illustrate and evaluate the ‘limits’ (ecological limits) and ‘equity’ (social justice) components of SI initiatives. The chapter concludes with reflections on this tool.


Key words: social innovation, sustainable consumption, sustainability evaluation, contraction and convergence, social justice, ecological limits


Chapter Eleven: Commentary: North-American Perspectives of Societal Transformation

Philip J Vergragt

This commentary sketches how the themes of this book - societal transformation, sustainable consumption, and social innovation - play out in the US American context of cultural and political diversity and of ambiguity in relation to the American dream. Based on several examples, it is shown that on the level of conceptual thinking, connections between societal transformation, social innovation and sustainable consumption are well developed in the US; but less so in practice and policy. Grassroots networks and networks of academics are loosely connected and much more could be accomplished. Those networks and alliances should be prepared to take advantage of windows of opportunity.


Chapter Twelve: Commentary from a Japanese Perspective: Tapping into Traditions for Transitions and Societal Transformations

Satoru Mizuguchi  

Promising theories and practices for social innovation, sustainable consumption and societal transformations are emerging in Europe. Examples include Sweden’s SymbioCity, Sweden’s approach to sustainable urban development, and the Netherlands’ transition management approach, which has become the backbone of the European Environment Agency’s quest for transition to circular economy. Both approaches have reached Asia, including Japan, but have yet to bear fruit. The reason for this might stem from the philosophy underpinning the specific methods commonly employed – such as backcasting, boundary spanning, and system-based changed. These are all deeply rooted in the Western intellectual tradition which might be summed up as “Jerusalem and Athens”, which may be incompatible with Asian traditions for enabling sustainable transformation. Asian countries may need to tap into their own traditions to realise effective societal transformation for sustainable development. At the same time, by tapping into the philosophies underpinning “Jerusalem and Athens” Western countries might also unlock full potential of Western approaches such as SymbioCity and transition management, not least to the extent that sources of personal transformation are explored.