UNMAKING: a research programme on the disruption of capitalism in societal transformation to sustainability

PhD research project: Power in the unmaking of capitalism

Seeking power: how do grassroots initiatives shape transformations to sustainability?

PhD student: Guilherme Raj.

Supervisors: Giuseppe Feola, Hens Runhaar.

Transformations to sustainability are inherently political and involve various aspects of power. The processes and outcomes of transformations are shaped by the ways actors intervene, relationships are built, and decisions are made. Also, transformations may disrupt established power relations detrimental to the natural environment and people’s well-being. By now, there is a growing realisation of the limitations of state and corporate interventions to bring about transformations in the extent and scope that are needed. Consequently, more attention has been given to grassroots initiatives.  

Grassroots initiatives hold the potential to disrupt the dominant order from the bottom up with a set of proposals for sustainability that rely on ecological and social justice principles. However, two aspects of grassroots initiatives highly relevant for politics and power in transformations to sustainability remain uncertain. First, it is unclear how power gets constituted in grassroots initiatives and how grassroots actors construct a critical consciousness about structural issues and power imbalances that leads them to exercise their strategic power. Second, more research is needed to investigate grassroots proposals for sustainability that include the unmaking of destructive and unsustainable elements of the dominant capitalist system.   

To study power relations in grassroots initiatives, how they get constituted and unmake capitalism, this PhD focuses on the case of agri-food grassroots initiatives named community-supported agriculture (CSA) in Portugal and Italy. How CSA members negotiate their internal organization can offer critical insights into the potential of community action to reconfigure unbalanced power relations at the foundation of unsustainable capitalist agri-food systems. To start, this PhD provides an overview of studies of power and empowerment in grassroots innovations for sustainability transitions. Then, it analyses the manifestation of power relations in CSAs in three circumstances: the creation of postcapitalist work relations, the empowerment of rural queer members and the effects of gender performativity in the collective organization.  


Publications within the PhD project:   

Raj, G. (in press). Selective, reciprocal and quiet: Lessons from rural queer empowerment in community-supported agriculture. Agriculture and Human Values.

Raj, G., Feola, G., Runhaar, H., 2024. Work in progress: power in transformation to postcapitalist work relations in community–supported agriculture. Agriculture and Human Values 41(1), 1-23.

Raj, G., Feola, G., Hajer, M., Runhaar, H., 2022. Power and empowerment of grassroots innovations for sustainability transitions: A reviewEnvironmental Innovation and Societal Transitions 43, 375-392.


Further publications:    

Guerrero Lara, L., van Oers, L., Smessaert, J., Spanier, J., Raj, G., Feola, G., (in press). Degrowth and Agri-Food Systems: A Research Agenda for the Critical Social SciencesSustainability Science, DOI: 10.1007/s11625-022-01276-y