Call for Papers: Ecocultures 2012: Transitions to Sustainability

Ecocultures 2012: Transitions to Sustainability
A Conference to take place at the University of Essex, 17th -18th April 2012

Ecocultures are communities from whom we can learn the art and science of sustainable living.

The aim of Ecocultures 2012 is to advance knowledge of how communities adapt successfully to social-ecological change, maintain resilience and enhance well-being. The conference will present and synthesise the best, current, multi-disciplinary perspectives of the barriers and bridges encountered by Ecocultures and how they can contribute to a global transition to sustainability.


In an emerging ‘perfect storm’ of pervasive and sometimes turbulent ecological, social and cultural change human communities will need to find ways to adapt creatively and sustainably. In doing so, we will need to learn how to mitigate emerging global threats such as climate change and resource degradation through changes in individual behaviour, community actions, state-level responses and international governance. We will need to adapt – psychologically, socially, economically, politically and culturally – to the new social and environmental conditions of the anthropocene. And finally, we will need make these adaptations creatively, in a way that maintains or improves well-being. The scope and urgency of these challenges require us to critically examine current efforts to live sustainably, and understand the nature and mechanisms of sustainability.

The Ecocultures research programme at the University of Essex examines how traditional and newly emerging communities across the world are already responding to these challenges relatively successfully. Designated as ‘Ecocultures’, these communities provide living examples of sustainability in resilient social-ecological systems. They offer us lessons on how sustainability looks, possible pathways for transition, and offer hope that high levels of ecological well-being are consistent with the flourishing of society and culture. In doing so, they provide hope that there is more than one way to develop and more than one way to be happy, whilst maintaining a commitment to environmental and societal well-being.

The Ecocultures 2012 conference will bring together members of these communities, researchers who work with them, policy makers interested in applying their lessons and development practitioners looking for innovative ways to enhance social-ecological well-being. Together, we will examine the principles and practices of ‘Ecocultures’ from multiple disciplinary perspectives and at every scale, from the individual to the community and beyond. The questions we will address will range from the deepest organising principles of alternative development paradigms (how do the members of Ecocultures view their place in the world and accord value to nature?) to the practicalities of their social and economic organisation. We invite submissions from across the spectrum of the social sciences and humanities; trans-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary submissions are particularly encouraged.

Conference Themes

We invite submissions from academics, policy makers and development practitioners engaged in work on resilience and sustainability. Papers could include (but are not limited to) the following themes:

* Case studies on communities successfully adapting to social-ecological change;
* Historic examples of highly resilient communities and their current status;
* Analyses of the ‘traditional’ practices contributing to sustainable lifestyles, the stresses to which these provide resilience, and the barriers and bridges to the continued practice of such traditional lifestyles in today’s world;
* The emergence of ‘new’ Ecocultures, such as cultural revitalisation initiatives, ‘back to the land’ initiatives and the transition movement; the barriers and bridges to sustainability within these initiatives, the potential for their spread, their contribution to well-being and to social-ecological resilience at community level and beyond;
* Critical analyses of current and alternative notions of ‘development’, ‘sustainability’ and ‘resilience’;
* Analyses of struggles for resources: how do, for example, the extractive industries and multi-national corporations affect the sustainability of communities;
* Conflicts between different notions and practices of ‘sustainability’;
* Meta-analyses of the social, economic, political and cultural barriers and bridges to sustainability;
* Analyses of the role played by current policies, economic and corporate initiatives for ‘sustainability’, including the potential for sustainable governance, the links between international trade and sustainable growth, and the potential role played by consumer awareness, environmental regulations, new methods of environmental valuation and corporate social responsibility initiatives.

Conference keynote address

One of the conference’s keynote addresses will be delivered by Professor Jules Pretty, Professor of Environment and Society at the University of Essex.

He is Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Sustainability and Resources), Pro-Vice-Chancellor responsible for the Faculty of Science and Engineering, and Deputy Vice-Chancellor. His books include This Luminous Coast (2011), Nature and Culture (co-authored, 2010), The Earth Only Endures (2007), Environment (4 vols, ed 2006), The Earthscan Reader in Sustainable Agriculture (2005, ed), The Pesticide Detox (2005, ed), Agri-Culture (2002) and Regenerating Agriculture (1995). He is a Fellow of the Society of Biology and the Royal Society of Arts, former Deputy-Chair of the Government’s Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE), and has served on advisory committees for a number of government departments. He is currently member of the Lead Expert Group for the UK Government’s Foresight Global Food and Farming Futures Project, member of the Expert Panel for UK National Ecosystem Assessment and member of BBSRC’s Strategy Advisory Board. He received an OBE in 2006 for services to sustainable agriculture, and an honorary degree from Ohio State University in 2009.

Conference Arrangements

The conference will take place on the Colchester campus of the University of Essex from the morning of Tuesday, 17th April until the afternoon of Wednesday, 18th April 2012. Conference costs will be kept to a minimum and confirmed by the end of January 2012.

For maps and travel directions, see

Submissions and Contacts

Paper proposals, in the form of an abstract (400-700 words) and Panel proposals (max 1000 words), should be sent to Prof. Steffen Böhm ( and Zareen Bharucha ( by 16th January 2012. Please make reference to the conference in the subject line of your email by marking it ‘Ecocultures 2012’. Authors will be notified of acceptance by 30th January 2012.

For general inquiries, please email Zareen Bharucha ( A visa letter can be provided for delegates who will require it for travel to the UK. Please let us know if you need one.

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