Date of Award

9-2013

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Communication

First Advisor

Jan Servaes

Second Advisor

Leda Cooks

Third Advisor

Henry Geddes

Subject Categories

Communication | Sustainability

Abstract

The core aim of this research is to explore the communication processes of the Transition movement, a community-led global social movement as it adapted in a local context. The Transition movement facilitates community-led responses to the current global financial and climate crisis via the Transition Network, an online network that began in 2006, and is comprised of more than 2000 initiatives in 35 countries that have used the Transition model to start projects that use small-scale solutions to achieve greater sustainability. This research uses qualitative ethnographic methods and a theoretical framework based on actor network theory to better understand how the movement’s grand narratives of “climate change” and “peak oil” are communicated into local community-based stories, responses, and actions toward sustainability, and secondly, to analyze the multilayered communication processes that facilitate these actions toward sustainable social change. Transition projects address a wide range of issues, including reducing dependency on peak-oil, creating community-based-local economies, supporting sustainable food production and consumption, building efficient transportation, housing, and more diverse and inclusive education. The Transition model provides a participatory communication framework laid out in specific stages for communities to begin this process. The popularity of the model coincides with an increase in the interest in and use of the term “sustainability” by media, academics and policymakers around the world, and an increase in the global use of digital technology as a resource for information gathering and sharing. Thus this study situates itself at the intersections of a global environmental and economic crisis, the popularization of the term “sustainability,” and an increasingly digitized and networked global society in order to better understand how social change is contextualized and facilitated in a local community via a global network. From the findings, I argue that although the model’s rapid growth can be attributed, in part, to an appealing narrative that reframes more traditional environmental movement discourse into solutions-based community-focused actions, the movement would do well to develop more organized communication processes around connecting with and recognizing other people and groups who share similar values and goals, and around defining and creating the space for consistent and efficient leaders. This study also reveals that members of Transition Amherst had mixed feelings about the group’s success and this was attributed to a wide range of interpretations of the model and the purpose it serves, particularly in towns where the ideology of Transition has already, to some extent, been adopted.

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