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In Transition: The Politics of Place-based, Prefigurative Social Movements

Emily E Hardt, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The Transition movement is a grassroots movement working to build community resilience in response to the challenges of climate change, fossil fuel depletion, and economic insecurity. Rather than focusing on the state as a site for contestation or change, the movement adopts a "do it ourselves" approach, prioritizing autonomy and prefigurative action. It also places importance on relationships and community in the context of local places. It is open-ended and characterized by an ethos of experimentation and learning. Transition shares these place-based and prefigurative features in common with many other contemporary movements, from the Zapatistas to alternative globalization movements, to popular movements in Latin America, to most recently the Occupy movement. Though often not seen as "political" by conventional definitions that understand social movements in relation to the state, I argue that Transition's choice of practical, place-based forms and commitments is an ethical-political one, based on the state's failure to meet crises of our times, and it has political effects. In exploring the movement in its own terms, this ethnographic study of the Transition movement in the northeast US demonstrates the ways in which activists are locating power and possibility in the local and the everyday. Operating in the terrain of culture and knowledge production, the Transition movement is engaged in an effort to shift subjectivities and social relations, and to resignify power, security, economy, and democracy. Paying attention to the Transition movement's specifically place-based, prefigurative features provides a better understanding of the potential of this approach and its political significance. It also sheds light on tensions, which in the US context include challenges in addressing racism, inequality, and the neoliberal state.

Subject Area

Cultural anthropology|Political science|Social structure

Recommended Citation

Hardt, Emily E, "In Transition: The Politics of Place-based, Prefigurative Social Movements" (2013). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3589031.