The SCI at the GRF: ‘Sustainable lifestyles, livelihoods, and the circular economy’
From 27-29 June the GRF (Global Research Forum) Third International Conference took place in Brighton.
This year the conference was dedicated to exploring critical links between the Circular Economy, sustainable lifestyles and livelihoods, and the Sustainable Development Goals. Several members of the SCI were present to share their ideas and opinions on these themes. Harald Wieser, Dan Welch, and Wouter Spekkink presented their work at paper presentations, and the Circular Economy group of the SCI organised a panel discussion, with Dan Welch as host and mediator, and with Frank Boons as one of the speakers, alongside Kersty Hobson of Cardiff University and Tim Foxon of the University of Sussex.
There is something peculiar about the way that the conference unfolded. The first day of the conference was dominated by overwhelmingly positive commentaries on the concept of Circular Economy, almost taking for granted the promises that it supposedly holds for sustainable transformation. By contrast, on the third day of the conference we witnessed overwhelmingly critical commentaries, almost dimissing the Circular Economy entirely because of its supposed complicity in perpetuating unsustainanable economic principles. One of the strong points of the SCI led panel, which took place on the third day, was that the views presented there found a balance between these extremes. Frank Boons urged us to shift from normative and political debates on Circular Economy to genuine attempts to develop a better understanding of the concept. Tim Foxon urged us to broaden the Circular Economy discourse from a Green Growth perspective into a Post-Growth perspective, in which an orientation on growth is largely replaced with an orientation on wellbeing. Kersty Hobson raised doubts about the reasonability of expectations of Cricular Citizens that are raised in popular Circular Economy frameworks. The panel discussion was well attended, and the presentations inspired a lively discussion. Questions were raised, for example, on the role of circular economies in raising or alleviating hurdles in attemps to transform our existing economic systems, and on the links between circular economies in developed and developing countries,
Members of the SCI also contributed to the conference through paper presentations. Harald Wieser contributed to a session that sought to critique and extend the Circular Economy framework. In his presentation, which was entitled “Circular Economy is the Solution, but what is the Problem?”, Harald drew from cases in the mobile phone industry to highlight the various ways the Circular Economy frame is mobilised in practice. In particular, the presentation raised questions about the desired speed of circulation, suggesting that a focus on the speed of circulation would address radically different problems than a focus on retaining materials in circulation.Harald concluded that the Circular Economy does not necessarily stand in opposition to the principle of sufficiency, provided that the speed of circulation is taken into account.
Dan Welch was invited to present in a session on ‘Energy consumption transitions and social change’ organised by members of the Horizon 2020 ENERGISE project, a pan-European research initiative to achieve a greater scientific understanding of the social and cultural influences on energy consumption. Colleagues in the Sustainable Consumption Research and Action Initiative (SCORAI), the sister organisation to the GRF, approached Dan out of interest in his recent work on understanding social change in relation to consumption through the lens of social practice and culture. Dan’s presentation “Imagined Futures: cultural imaginaries and practice” discussed links between the ENERGISE project’s ambition to move beyond existing sustainable consumption research by developing an innovative theoretical framework and his own recent work.
Wouter Spekkink contributed to a session on Circular Economy in cities. In his presentation, entitled ‘Recrafting practices through grassroots initiatives‘, he introduced an analytical framework that can be used to study how grassroots sustainability initiatives contribute to the translation of unsustainable practices into sustainable ones. One of the cases that Wouter presented for illustrative purposes concerns the ways in which Repair Cafés took elements from repairing as a hobby, as well as from wasteful production and consumption practices, and translated these into their own version of the practice of repairing, with a strong emphasis on repairing as a social, as well as an environmental activity. Wouter also emphasised that practices developed in grassroots initiatives do not always translate easily into practices of ‘everyday life’, because of their sometimes intimate links to grassroots sustainability initiatives as their site.
For more information on the GRF Third International conference, see the website http://grf-spc.weebly.com/brighton-2017.html.