Metanarratives of change : civil society and governance approaches to sustainable development in Europe : exploring the relevance of culture for sustainability
Although the urgent need for change towards sustainable development has become a widely accepted development goal in the European Union since the early 1990s, the pace of change in practice does not seem to have kept up with the urgency in rhetoric. This study takes a closer look at the diversity behind the seeming consensus, identifies ways the ... chosen stakeholders understand and practice sustainable development, checks if the bold claim that sustainable development has been mainstreamed in Europe holds true and reflects on the role of the often neglected cultural aspects in development processes.This qualitative, empirical and comparative study collected novel data and used constructivist grounded theory methodology to analyse sixteen case studies including Estonia, Germany, Portugal and the European Union from the governance sector, and the Global Ecovillage Network Europe, the Transition network and the Let s Do It! network member initiatives from each participating country, plus the networks themselves from the civil society sector. The focus was laid on the first 15 years of the 21st century. However an analytical overview of developments since the outset of the 20th century is made as well to make grounded statements about the development of the sustainability scene. Grounded theory analysis enabled identifying the core themes and categories of each case capturing their essential attitudes and solutions for moving towards sustainable development. After contextualising the case study results in existing research, two overarching metanarratives of change emerged: the holistic reintegrating turn capturing the essence of the civil society approach and the reductionist economising turn metanarrative reflecting the central solutions of the governance level. The core differences between the civil society and governance approaches to sustainable development boiled down to different interpretations of the role of humans and their relationship to the world. The metanarratives of change are invariables of many micro-, meso- and macronarratives about the role of humans, their relationship with nature and the changes that need to be made for humanity to survive the multiple crises. Among the main stumbling stones impeding the rhetorically desired cross-sectoral cooperation is the often unquestioned dominance of the weak sustainability approach focusing on the macrolevel processes and tangible aspects of development. The case study results show that although often sidelined, the cultural aspects play a significant role in shaping development processes. In fact, it is suggested that the seeming exclusion of cultural aspects in the economising turn approach has facilitated continuing practices perpetuating social inequality and environmental destruction. The main contributions of this study include articulating a grounded theory about the sustainable development situation in Europe among the stakeholders, debunking the myth of sustainable development being mainstreamed in Europe, showcasing the relevance of culture and narratives in the sustainable development processes, demonstrating the benefits of increased attention on building intra- and interpersonal literacy and broadening the scope of accepted knolwedge, suggesting practical steps for improving cross-sectoral cooperation and a periodisation of sustainable development processes in Europe. It is suggested that if the civil society and governance levels manage to build capacities for cross-sectoral cooperation, it would open doors for developing new win-win solutions that could contribute significantly to the Great Transformation in the EU.