PhD: Tackling Climate Change Through Community: The Politics and Practice of the Low Carbon Communities Challenge (Richard Hauxwell-Baldwin)

Dr Richard Hauxwell-Baldwin

Despite claims by academics and policymakers that community may offer a potentially useful context through which to tackle climate change, there is limited empirical evidence to support such an assertion. This thesis sets out to address that gap. Drawing on theories of the governance of environmental change, community, social interaction, and governmentality, it presents a qualitative case-study of the Low Carbon Communities Challenge (LCCC). The LCCC was a United Kingdom government funded policy experiment intended to develop understandings of how to deliver the transition to low carbon living at the community level.

The thesis highlights a conflict between the instrumental understanding of community as a delivery-mechanism for government policy on environmental change, and the normative understanding of community based on social relations and identification with place held by residents in the communities studied. Applied instrumentally, community offered participants a largely ineffective mechanism by which to alter the social dynamics and patterns of normal behaviour within their households towards low(er) carbon lifestyles. Viewed narrowly through the stated purpose of the LCCC, it could be interpreted as a failed experiment as a result of the resistance of community members to adopting the carbon-conscious subjectivity imposed on them. However the thesis suggests that from a governmentality perspective, an alternative interpretation is that the LCCC served to reinforce neoliberal rationality which contends that community is not capable of tackling climate change and that the market, which may in turn appropriate community, is the only way forward. The thesis concludes by setting out a number of practical and conceptual implications for future research, and outlines the beginnings of a new, critical research agenda into the role of community in tackling climate change.

PhD awarded 2013, supervised by Gill Seyfang,  Jason Chilvers and Tom Hargreaves, University of East Anglia