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7th International Sustainability Transitions (IST) 2016 in Wuppertal, 6-9 September 2016

von Boris Bachmann

The International Sustainability Transitions (IST) Conference is one of the major annual events for the scientific community concerned with sustainability transitions across a multitude of disciplines and the major meet-ups of the Sustainability Transitions Research Network (STRN). On 6-9 September 2016, the conference took place in Wuppertal simultaneously with the 25th anniversary of the Wuppertal Institute which hosted the conference together with the University of Wuppertal and the joint research center TransZent. Matching the Institute’s approach, the conference was themed around the motto “Exploring Transition Research as Transformative Science”. Thus, apart from case studies from a multitude of research fields connected to sustainability transitions, the major focus of the event was on investigating the appropriate stance for sustainability researchers towards and involvement in their field of interest and how to engage with practicioners in such transdisciplinary contexts.

 

In addition, the conference programme was built along different thematic tracks such as Urban Transitions, Governance of Transitions or Social Learning and Innovation. Amongst the conference highlights were the plenary sessions centering on the development of alternative indicators of well-being with presentations by Cathy Maguire of the European Environment Agency and Carrie Exton of the OECD, who introduced the OECD Better Life Index which aggregates different factors such as health, equality or education in a customizable proportion. Another highlight was the plenary on “Research and Practice Perspectives on the Governance of Urban Transition”. In this plenary, Derk Loorbach of the University of Rotterdam, one of the founders of the Dutch transition management approach, and Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Town movement and one of the main change agents in the field societal change, exchanged insights.

 

Another focus of the conference were the research activities of the Wuppertal Institute and TransZent in the city of Wuppertal as well as the work of practicioners within the city. A number of combined sessions focused on the real-world laboratories, exploring the characteristic approach taken on transdisciplinary research in Wuppertal. A highlight was a joint session together with practicioners from Wuppertal such as Utopiastadt who shared experience from their side of the transdisciplinary arrangements. The conference was closely connected to the Wuppertal Institute’s anniversary programme which invited all of the conference participants on an excursion into the quarter of Arrenberg. Arrenberg aspires to become Germany’s first climate neutral quarter that is not built from scratch, but transformed into on the basis of established communities and structures. The excursion was completed by an invitation to the Wuppertal Institute’s anniversary party in the Villa Media venue which provided space for more cheerful but nonetheless valuable exchange among the conference participants.

 

I was very thankful for the opportunity to present my own dissertation project on “Urban Transition Narratives” which compares discourse on urban transition framing pathways towards a sustainable future in the two cities of Wuppertal and Bonn. My core argument is that as pathways are framed by means of narrative and narrative structures within discourse differ from city to city according to a specific intrinsic logic (“Eigenlogik”), understanding this discourse provides insights in how transitions towards sustainability have to be different in each given city. I got the chance to present my approach in a speedtalk session followed by an intense discussion which provided valuable feedback and comments for the advancement of my study.

The International Sustainability Transitions (IST) Conference is one of the major annual events for the scientific community concerned with sustainability transitions across a multitude of disciplines and the major meet-ups of the Sustainability Transitions Research Network (STRN). On 6-9 September 2016, the conference took place in Wuppertal simultaneously with the 25th anniversary of the Wuppertal Institute which hosted the conference together with the University of Wuppertal and the joint research center TransZent. Matching the Institute’s approach, the conference was themed around the motto “Exploring Transition Research as Transformative Science”. Thus, apart from case studies from a multitude of research fields connected to sustainability transitions, the major focus of the event was on investigating the appropriate stance for sustainability researchers towards and involvement in their field of interest and how to engage with practicioners in such transdisciplinary contexts. In addition, the conference programme was built along different thematic tracks such as Urban Transitions, Governance of Transitions or Social Learning and Innovation. Amongst the conference highlights were the plenary sessions centering on the development of alternative indicators of well-being with presentations by Cathy Maguire of the European Environment Agency and Carrie Exton of the OECD, who introduced the OECD Better Life Index which aggregates different factors such as health, equality or education in a customizable proportion. Another highlight was the plenary on “Research and Practice Perspectives on the Governance of Urban Transition”. In this plenary, Derk Loorbach of the University of Rotterdam, one of the founders of the Dutch transition management approach, and Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Town movement and one of the main change agents in the field societal change, exchanged insights. Another focus of the conference were the research activities of the Wuppertal Institute and TransZent in the city of Wuppertal as well as the work of practicioners within the city. A number of combined sessions focused on the real-world laboratories, exploring the characteristic approach taken on transdisciplinary research in Wuppertal. A highlight was a joint session together with practicioners from Wuppertal such as Utopiastadt who shared experience from their side of the transdisciplinary arrangements. The conference was closely connected to the Wuppertal Institute’s anniversary programme which invited all of the conference participants on an excursion into the quarter of Arrenberg. Arrenberg aspires to become Germany’s first climate neutral quarter that is not built from scratch, but transformed into on the basis of established communities and structures. The excursion was completed by an invitation to the Wuppertal Institute’s anniversary party in the Villa Media venue which provided space for more cheerful but nonetheless valuable exchange among the conference participants. I was very thankful for the opportunity to present my own dissertation project on “Urban Transition Narratives” which compares discourse on urban transition framing pathways towards a sustainable future in the two cities of Wuppertal and Bonn. My core argument is that as pathways are framed by means of narrative and narrative structures within discourse differ from city to city according to a specific intrinsic logic (“Eigenlogik”), understanding this discourse provides insights in how transitions towards sustainability have to be different in each given city. I got the chance to present my approach in a speedtalk session followed by an intense discussion which provided valuable feedback and comments for the advancement of my study.