Reading Sustainability for Difference: Place, community and Development

The ubiquity of sustainability in current academic and development discourses has pushed scholars to ask if the concept has already lost meaning and value (Farley and Smith 2013). A related critique of the three pillars approach to sustainability is that sustainability science overemphasizes environmental management at the expense of real economic or social change. Our goals for this paper session are then two-fold: to tackle the meaning and value of sustainability while also asking if the concept would actually be better served by focusing on economic change and social justice.  


Critical scholars such as Arturo Escobar (2007) and J.K. Gibson-Graham (2016) have directed attention to multiscalar place-based economic practices and the re-valuing of local politics as central themes in understanding and transforming global economic processes for just and democratic institutions. The lesson from this body of research is to redraw the lines of what counts as economic practice, locate and establish alternative economies in local communities. 


A similar aspiration can be met by focusing on place-based practices of sustainability. Applying Gibson-Graham’s (2016) techniques of ‘reading for difference’ to sustainability, for example, leaves room for local and emerging iterations of sustainable development. The central notion of ‘place’ itself is open to co-constitution by society, culture and nature (Casey 1996). Research in the processes of place can provide vital analytical tools to understand and activate sustainable development that equally concerns equity, economy and ecology. 


Hoping to discuss both possibilities and prohibitions for sustainability, we welcome case studies, theoretical investigations, literature reviews and other forms of research-contributions. Topics might include but are not limited to:

  • Critical discussions of sustainability, sustainable community development, social-ecological relationships in place, transforming local/global social-ecological relations, emplacement of economic practices, capitalism as world ecology, ‘place’ as site of resistance, commons and commoning.

If you are interested in joining this session, please send an abstract of 200-300 words to Frederik Aagaard Hagemann ( by the 25th of November. Participants will be notified by the 28th of November and will then need to register and submit their abstracts to DOPE 2017 by December 1st, 2016.



Casey. Edward S.  (1996): How to Get from Space to Place in a Fairly Short Stretch of Time: Phenomenological Prolegomena. In Senses of Place, ed. S. Feld and K. Basso, 13-52. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press.


Escobar, Arturo (2007): Worlds and Knowledges Otherwise. In Cultural Studies Vol. 21 , Iss. 2-3


Farley, H., & Smith, Z. (2014): Sustainability: If it’s everything, is it nothing? New York: Routledge.


Gibson-Graham, J.K. (2016): Building Community Economies: Women and the Politics of Place. In: The Palgrave Handbook of Gender and Development (pp. 287-311). Palgrave Macmillan UK


Harvey, David (1993): From Space To Place And Back Again: Reflections on the Condition of Postmodernity. In Jon Bird et al., eds. Mapping The Futures (pp. 3-29) London and New York, Routledge

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