Prof. dr. Marcel Boogers

Public Governance and Management
The role of democratic practices in grassroots initiatives for sustainability transformations 01.12.2023 to 30.11.2024
General project description

Democratic processes are often perceived as conflicting with the need for rapid and fundamental sustainability transformations. This perception calls for new visions of democracy that can stimulate pathways to sustainability while enhancing inclusion and empowerment. A diversity of grassroots initiatives is already experimenting with alternative ways of thinking and practicing democracy. These range from transition towns and ecovillages, and alternative food initiatives to social movements, urban squats and protest camps. Also described as ‘real utopias’ (Wright, 2010, 2013), they bring potential visions and imaginaries of future democracies into the here and now. However, what democracy means in the context of these initiatives, and the relationship between their democratic practices and wider sustainability transformations is not yet well understood.

This project will assess under which conditions democratic practices in grassroots initiatives can enhance pathways to sustainability. It investigates to what extent democracy is considered a value in different forms of grassroots initiatives, how it is understood, practiced, and organized, and how this supports or hinders sustainability transformations. The contribution to sustainability transformations is assessed by studying how grassroots contribute to shifts in dominant logics as central leverage points for transformation: from materialistic culture and growth toward post-capitalist perspectives, from control of humans over nature toward reconnecting human-non-human relationships, and from expert to pluralist understandings of knowledge (see Alakavuklar, 2023, Tschersich et al. 2023, Tschersich & Kok, 2022, Feola et al., 2021).

This project combines an in-depth investigation of Freetown Christiania in Denmark with a larger comparative study. We will organize a 1,5-day transdisciplinary workshop at Utrecht University with scholars and representatives of different types of grassroots initiatives to compare and contrast experiences of democratic practices in different grassroots experiments in the Netherlands and across Europe, and discuss and reflect on the hindering and supporting factors for grassroots’ democratic practices to enhance pathways to sustainability with stakeholders.

This project creates the space for inter- and transdisciplinary exchange at Utrecht University and beyond around new forms of thinking about and practicing democracy in grassroots. It aims to build new collaborations and a new vibrant community around democracy and transformation at UU and beyond, and build a larger collection of case studies on Democracy and Transformation. 

Utrecht University Pathways to Sustainability