Urban green communities. Towards a pragmatic sociology of civic commonality in sustainable citymaking

Anette Gravgaard Christensen, Jakob Laage-Thomsen & Anders Blok (2019)

In: Jens Hoff, Quentin Gausset & Simon Lex, Building a sustainable future. The role of non-state actors in the green transition, Routledge, p. 114-135.

Abstract. In recent years, neighbourhood-based gardens, local food collectives, tree-planting campaigns, and kindred civic environmental initiatives have taken root in cities across the world. Such initiatives are often (self-)described in the language of ‘community’, or fællesskab in Danish, thereby also evoking a contested term from the social sciences. To better conceptualise such ‘urban green communities’, as we call them, this chapter synthesises three main approaches found in the literature. These approaches deal with attachments to one’s neighbourhood or place of residence, how volunteers are enrolled into neo-liberal governance, and imagined communities of civic solidarity. We illustrate these senses of community by drawing on the empirical case of a transition town-affiliated civic gardening initiative in a mid-sized Danish city. In particular, we show how pragmatic sociologist Laurent Thévenot’s notion of ‘commonality in the plural’ and his distinction of familiar, planned, and justifiable engagements, allow us to bring together these otherwise divergent senses of community into a comprehensive analytical framework. Drawing on the empirical case, we argue that Thévenot’s framework provides an empirically sensitive grasp on how groups compose their civic practices vis-à-vis urban–environmental issues as one key component in collective aspirations for more sustainable cities.

Excerpt. “This conceptual mapping serves as a springboard for our core argument: chat in order to adequately grasp the particularity of present-day urban green communities, we need to chink across and co-articulate these otherwise separated out senses of community. We achieve this, in the latter part of the chapter, by showing how French pragmatic sociologist Laurent Thévenot’s notion of ‘commonality in the plural’ and its distinction of familiar, planned, and justifiable engagements in particular allows us to integrate the three existing strands of studies into a more comprehensive conceptual architecture. What this architecture allows in relation to existing frameworks is the placement of analytical and empirical emphasis not on three senses of community separately, but rather on the ways in which any particular civic urban greening group must co-articulate, or ‘co-compose’, these forms of commonality together to achieve their coherence and collective efficacy over time.”

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