Tending to seeds of civic activity: navigating democratic transformations to sustainability

Stephen Leitheiser


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Calls for societies to become more sustainable are becoming increasingly urgent. Tired of waiting for ‘the market’ or ‘the state’ to solve problems for them, many civic actors are claiming an active role in carving out pathways towards sustainable transformation in practice: finding sustainable ways to meet their daily needs, work, make decisions, and define value together.

Driven by the question of what can be done now given the circumstances, and inspired by political ecology’s project of radical democratization, this thesis explores the ways in which existing civic practices, strategies, and imaginaries are contributing to sustainability transformations. The researcher got his hands dirty, both literally and figuratively. Literally, he engaged in ethnographic work alongside small-scale farmers in the Netherlands: pulling weeds and harvesting vegetables while discussing wider possibilities for a regenerative food economy. Figuratively, he attempted the messy task of making his PhD work relevant to civic actors: from small-scale Dutch farmers, to German citizens inventing new spaces of governance in food policy councils, and beyond.

Civic activity is conceptualized as a ‘seed’ that stores the potential to grow into a robust plant – here understood as a counter-movement against unsustainable ways of relating to nature and each other. This thesis argues that the seeds of civic activity are being scattered all around. Recognizing and helping them to grow is as good of a place as any to start in finding pathways to truly ‘sustainable’ ways of relating to nature and each other.
Originele taal-2English
KwalificatieDoctor of Philosophy
Toekennende instantie
  • Rijksuniversiteit Groningen
  • Horlings, Ina, Supervisor
  • Trell-Zuidema, Elen, Co-supervisor
  • Franklin, A., Co-supervisor, Externe Persoon
Datum van toekenning20-okt.-2022
Plaats van publicatie[Groningen]
Gedrukte ISBN's978-94-034-2986-1
StatusPublished - 2022

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