Reference : Be constructive! Situating sustainability research at the nexus of positivism and ref...
Scientific Presentations in Universities or Research Centers : Scientific presentation in universities or research centers
Social & behavioral sciences, psychology : Human geography & demography
Be constructive! Situating sustainability research at the nexus of positivism and reflective positionality
Carr, Constance mailto [University of Luxembourg > Faculty of Language and Literature, Humanities, Arts and Education (FLSHASE) > Identités, Politiques, Sociétés, Espaces (IPSE) >]
Hesse, Markus mailto [University of Luxembourg > Faculty of Language and Literature, Humanities, Arts and Education (FLSHASE) > Identités, Politiques, Sociétés, Espaces (IPSE) >]
Royal Geographical Society with Institute of British Geographers - Annual International Conference
August 30 - September 2 2016
[en] Sustainable development remains a powerful concept across European and global fields of policy-making. Spurred by the all-encompassing threat of climate change, the rhetoric of a great transformation successfully occupies current policy and practice. However, in contrast to the doom and gloom predictions, and in stark contrast to the sheer magnitude of the challenge of dealing with such complex set of problems, recent policy ideas and recipes seem trivial, and overly rationalised and optimistic. With respect to this, there are two interrelated issues that will be explored in this session. First, much of this new rationality of sustainability moults into popular labels such as ‘green’ or ‘smart’ where the city is the primary setting. This search for practical solutions in the city is further buttressed by the ‘sustainability business’ and associated green-washing practices that have emerged, as well as a variety of tools to assess, monitor, evaluate, and certify sustainability initiatives (indicators, metrics, and planning orthodoxies such as density, integrated, or holistic planning) that have become standard practice. Scholars have been active to identify the pitfalls here: Elgert & Krueger (2012) discussed the epistemology of metrics; Wiig (2015) interrogated the corporate strategy of a multi such as IBM behind ‘smart city’; Angelo & Wachsmuth (2015) criticised ‘methodological cityism’ in political ecology; Purcell (2006) showed the limits to localism; Mössner (2013) exposed socio-political limits of green cities. These criticisms highlight that there is something else to explore beyond current notions of sustainability. In this session, we explore further critiques of existing attempts, as well as conceptions of sustainability that embrace more contemporary imaginaries of urban geographies. These include critical reflections on super-optimist projects such as transition towns, or green cities (e.g. localism, methodological city-ism, green-washing in urban marketing), and thoughts on the disparity between the normative of sustainable development and current policy realities (How has this disparity changed? How is it produced? What lays outside the current lens? How has green urbanism changed over time and across places?). The second issue relates to expectations of knowledge proliferation in academia, as research communities are increasingly embedded in contradictory settings, expected to provide results and not problems, to be frank but constructive, and moreover, to be elite, excellent, income-generating as well as critical. In this respect, there is thus good reason to analyse the research-policy nexus, as Woods & Gardner (2011), Pain (2006), and Beaumont et al. (2005) have explored, examine the construction of knowledge claims as Rydin (2007) has explained, and rework some considerations with regards to rationalist modes in sustainable development and emerging sustainability modernities. We thus also want to interrogate the tensions between the construction of positivist sustainability on the one hand, and the position of the critical researcher on the other hand – the treading of the fine line between Dennis Judd’s (2005) claim that urban scholars tend to assume that “everything is always going to hell” (Judd 2005) and Elbert Hubbard’s classical “positive anything is better than negative nothing” (Hawthorne 1902). Concrete questions addressed here are: Who is producing claims to knowledge in practices of sustainable development urbanism? What are the possibilities and limitations for researchers to balance constructive interventionism with realistic limits of sustainable development and all its complexities, messy politics, wicked problems that are observed in human geography? How is it possible to pursue state-led contract work while maintaining critical integrity? What are relevant reflections the ontology, methodology and ethics of applied SD research practice?

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