Narratives and vision impacts of the Transition movement

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Creating/sharing regenerative narratives & visions      

Transition groups can play an important role in “the positive futures we can create for ourselves”. The positive narratives developed and enacted by Transition can be the catalyst for involvement in Transition, and also for the replication and scaling out of visionary transition projects.

Covid context

Transition’s role in developing narratives and vision has been highlighted by responses to the recent and ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Transition has been crafting a vision of a better future for over a decade. This vision speaks to the needs for community resilience and a caring society that the Covid-19 crisis highlights. In a newsletter, Transition Liverpool (England) highlighted the opportunity to shift the narrative:

We cannot afford to revert to "Business As Usual" and "life as normal" because the normal we knew is destroying the planet and that threat, while not immediate like Covid, is rapidly becoming an irreversible reality. Transitioners are well placed to help get this message across through our own activities and our alliance with the many organisations, petition sites and social and political movements which are working for fundamental social and economic change.”

Transition US found their recent national network meeting on Community resilience and COVID-19 [1]’ to be "one of the most well-attended, energising and useful online events they have held in the past years".

The opportunity to shift behaviour and mindsets in response to Covid 19 was also noted in the Training for Transition report [2]This crisis will make people think more about the connection between all the world, and it’s very important. Much more awareness about resilience, local food, collaboration and inequality.”

Transition Network put together a snapshot of worldwide Transition responses to Covid in their Bounce forward blog post [3]. This inspired the framing of work in Great Britain in 2020/21.

Alternative narratives

Many survey respondents mentioned the dominance of ‘business as usual’ narratives and the power of vested interests as a challenge to scaling up the work of the Transition movement. 65% of survey respondents reported that they had achieved some, or meaningful or significant impact in ‘creating/sharing regenerative narratives & visions’ through events, screenings and discussions and the practical application of positive visions in Transition projects, for example: "I've seen Transition concepts like building community resilience and envisioning positive futures become much more widely understood and embraced throughout the world”.

Particular projects such as Municipalities in Transition enabled a “systemic and practical vision”, and positive visions were identified as what is needed: “Passende Visionen, die viele Menschen erreichen und geteilt werden: von Medien, Kulturschaffenden, Kindern, LehererInnen, PolitikerInnen, ArbeitgeberInnen bis hin zu visionären ÖkonomInnen. // Appropriate visions that reach and are shared by many people: by the media, cultural workers, children, teachers, politicians, employers and even visionary economists”.

However, some academic and movement reports (Poland et al., 2019[4], Barr and Pollard, 2017[5]; Molteno, 2019[6]) acknowledge the diversity of movement narratives, which can sometimes result in the lack of a clear message at a local level. Some survey respondents suggested a need for change: “the narrative, the story, of "the Transition" has to evolve in times of emergency, surely leaving aside the most naive character of seeking that positive future” and “[Transition] has to adapt its narrative, connecting it to current times and to that of other movements”.

Participants in Transition discussion groups (Dec 2020) highlighted tensions between the “'positive vision' being a philosophical foundation of Transition, and the feeling now that future is very elusive and uncertain and hard to connect to positive vision. Is it useful to hold a positive vision? Is a vision of some kind helpful - does it need reframing as a more pragmatic type of vision?”. Participants also mentioned the need to deal with disappointments and frustrations about how positive visions of the future seems more out of reach now than in recent years. The need for approaches that can enable the impacts of current realities and narratives to be acknowledged, and can create space for positive vision, intentions and agency to emerge.  

Examples of how groups are working with narratives and visions:

Transition Town Tooting, UK: “We have developed a culture of the 'possible'; closing the busy A24 for a Carnival to reimagine the future, transforming a bus turning circle into a pop up village green - imaginative ideas collectively manifested by large numbers in the community - across age and cultural difference.

Bonn im Wandel e.V, Germany: “At local level we are quite successful in telling a better narrative about our future and also making it visible with our projects if its the CSA, the Cargo Bikes, Bonn blossoms and Humms, as well as Trainings und Events about Transition, REconomy, SDGs. We wrote articles and newsletter about sense making out of Covid 19, and got very positive feedback. We also talk about Climate Change as a catalyzer for change more over, our CSA and our community gardens are affected by heatwaves and start experimenting with permaculture techniques at low level. Within the last 12 months we drafted a concept of participation and cocreation for a climate neutral city. Its called "Bonn4Future - we for the climate. We started with explorative talks with initiatives, experts, representatives of the City administration and politics about the question "what has to happen that the transformation towards a climate neutral city would be successful and a process I would love to contribute?". Based on this inquiry and the experiences in other cities such as Totnes or Marburg we co-created the concept for a city wide process. This process was supported by more than 50 organisations, enterprises and initiatives. It was adapted by the council of the city of Bonn on 2nd of September 2020, to start as a city wider project on 1st of December". See Bonn-For Future and Bonn im Wandel .

Transicion México Hub:Prior to the pandemic, events were being held about the documentary that we made about local currencies, with the participation of environmental organizations, social actors, activists and initiatives, that gave space for dialogue and questioning the situation.

Transicion Colombia Hub: “From Transition Colombia, we are starting the #yosoyelcambio campaign, with the purpose of spreading and expanding the collective response to these changes and sharing successful experiences from different topics as a contribution to the transition that we are making from each home.

Japan:By sharing and drawing the image of the future we are aiming for, we learned that we can understand each other regardless of the person's position, such as region, company, baby boomer generation. The entrance is simple, and you start working to solve the person's (or local or corporate) problems. I think it will also lead to a method of building a relationship of trust. If we solve someone's troubles one by one, we have taken a method that will surely move forward for the distant purpose of improving the world. As a result, it leads to shaking the emotions of many people, creating a chain in which they themselves start their activities as practitioners”.

Creativity

The role of creativity and the arts was highlighted in relation to generating regenerative narratives and visions. Some examples from Italy, England and the USA highlight the approaches that are being taken:

Lame in transizione, Italy: “The group started as an offshoot of Zoè theaters[7] but over time has increasingly identified with that which makes the Associaizone social promotion. Improsocial is the workshop for facilitating projects related to community social theater, generative, within the relationships created from time to time[8]. Locally as a Lame neighborhood we are now beginning to see some fruit"[9].

Transition Town Tooting, UK: “My work at Transition Town Tooting gave rise to a handbook called Playing for Time - Making Art As If The World Mattered which maps creative practices in community for harnessing our imaginations and creative capacities. It sprang from much of the work seeded in TT Tooting and has had an impact in the wider professional arts and cultural sector as well as in systems change/transition/grassroots community activism.”

Cooperation Humboldt[10] in the USA has an Arts & Culture program, which includes the following elements:  [insert link]

  • Annual Artists Dismantling Capitalism Symposium
  • Field Guide to a Crisis (social practice project with people in recovery)
  • Regenerative Theater (realizing a solidarity economy through theater)
  • Somatic Practices (body-centered seminar to unlearn white supremacy)
  • Imaginal Services Bureaux (art in service of envisioning social justice)
  • Arts Hub

References

  1. Community Resilience and Covid-19 accessed 27/04/2021
  2. Training for Transition accessed 21/04/2021
  3. Bounce forward blog post accessed 27/04/2021
  4. Poland, B. et al. (2019) ‘The emergence of the transition movement in Canada: success and impact through the eyes of initiative leaders’, Local Environment, 24(3), pp. 180–200. doi: 10.1080/13549839.2018.1555579.
  5. Barr, S. W. and Pollard, J. (2016) ‘Geographies of Transition: Narrating environmental activism in an age of climate change and “Peak Oil”’, Environment and Planning A: international journal of urban and regional research. Available at: https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/22790.
  6. Molteno, S. (2019) The challenge of fostering pro-environmental behaviour -­‐ exploring the impact of participation in Transition Town initiatives. Masters Thesis.
  7. www.zoeteatri.it accessed 04/05/2021
  8. http://transitionitalia.it/2017/09/27/improsocial/ accessed 04/05/2021
  9. http://transitionitalia.it/2018/04/03/officina-di-facilitazione-per-comunita-dynamiche/ accessed 04/05/2021.
  10. https://cooperationhumboldt.com/arts/ accessed 04/05/2021