‘TRIPPLES’: Third Annual Gathering of the RIPPLES Research Group

by Emily Creamer

University of Stirling: 11th & 12th January 2018

After a sluggish first week back at work, the third annual RIPPLES gathering was exactly what I needed to jump start my 2018.

As has become customary, the meeting kicked off with us sharing our biggest successes and challenges of the past year. This included an inspiring array of publications; research collaborations (e.g. REINVENT; Community Energy Finance;  Local Authority Engagement in Energy Systems; Reshaping the Domestic Nexus); international networking (e.g. UK-India Newton Researchers Link Workshop); conference organisation and contribution; undergraduate and postgraduate teaching; PhD viva successes; and five-a-side football triumphs.

We spent much of our time together laying out our plans for the year. We came away with solid ideas for at least five collaborative papers and several conference sessions (look out for us at People, Place & Policy in June; RGS-IBG in August; Energy & Society in September). We’re keen to engage more actively with researchers and research groups beyond RIPPLES. So, as well as blogging and tweeting our news and ideas more regularly, we plan to host a workshop in the autumn to connect with RIPPLES-esque researchers across Europe. Watch this space!

There were some absences at the meeting on account of various non-negotiable commitments, including a PhD viva and – equally excitingly – the arrival of a couple of baby ‘ripplets’. These new arrivals mean that around half of us now have children and, as (relatively) young researchers, that percentage may well increase over the years. Recent research has demonstrated the significant impact that a university’s maternity policy and childcare provision have on the careers of their female academics. One particularly pertinent finding of the research for RIPPLES members was that, in several institutions, maternity packages varied depending on length of employment and tenure. Many RIPPLES members are women on fixed-term contracts (of varying lengths). We are encouraged to move institution several times to improve our chances of gaining a permanent academic post. So it is us – or people like us – who are at the sharp end of these inequalities. Unsurprisingly, no relationship was found between maternity or paternity leave provisions and the career opportunities of male academics.

Reflecting on what it is we each value as a member of RIPPLES, a key thing for many of us is the non-instrumental, social support that the group offers. An article in Science last year reported findings from France that suggested non-permanent academic staff members experience “a very strong level of anxiety, demotivation, and mistrust”. As transient residents of university departments, PhD candidates and postdocs often occupy that strange insider-outsider space: belonging, but not fully. In these roles, we are frequently the sole full time researcher on an externally funded project, and some of us have few – if any – colleagues with shared research interests in our own departments. RIPPLES helps fill that gap for many of us. And so it goes that life imitates art (if you call our research ‘art’, which I do), with RIPPLES becoming a demonstration of what ‘community’ does that other social structures don’t, and why it persists (despite not existing).

Ecosophical Geographies

by Gerry Taylor Aiken

I’m delighted to say that the first special edition, on Ecosophical Geographies, I’ve been behind has been published this week.

Obviously this is nice to see in print, but it’s also a reminder that keeping faith with your ideas and finding interesting conversations is a key precondition to any academic collaboration I want to pursue. Rob Shaw (who co-edited the collection with me) and I would have long late night conversations as we did our PhD’s together. In many ways I feel the special edition brings together both of our joint interests: Rob’s theoretical obsessions, including Deleuze and Guatarri, and my desire for committed thinking, or seeking ideas that can change how we live our lives.

Rob was always really interested in the theory side of things, while I arrived at the PhD fresh from a masters with the Centre for Human Ecology in Glasgow, a much more activist-engaged-embodied form of academia, if you can even call it academia. Somehow we had the feeling that between these two worlds—the environmentalist and the theorist—there was something that could be said of relevance in the world of human geography. Although of course we both were eco and theory inclined: many of these conversations were worked out over tasks in the local Green party, or sharing excitement over our latest reading.

We found that many of the deep green thinkers and permaculture ideas I was reading and chewing over (Johana Macy and others), drew on ideas of ‘ecosophy’ from Arne Naess. Simultaneously this same term was drawn into French poststructuralist thought by Felix Guttarri’s take-up of the term. Both Macy and Guttarri were also influenced by Gregory Bateson and looking back I wonder if it was a trip to see a Gregory Bateson biopic where the penny dropped.

Anyway, we tentatively drew up a proposal for a session at the RGS-IBG 2014 conference and were very pleased with the quality of the papers. Charlie Carlin’s paper in particular seemed exactly the sort of thing we were after: empirically drawing on a ‘vision quest’, the very thing I had had to undergo as part of my MSc (Imagine getting an academic qualification for fasting on the edge of a cliff in Knoydart!); theoretically cutting through some fascinating post-humanist thinkers I’m sure Rob had been trying to explain to me a few months earlier.

The ideas in the room from that session were too good to stay there, so I’m very happy to see them in print now. It’s been a long but rewarding process getting these ideas out in the end. Hopefully too, ecosophy can make a bit of a difference in thinking through human-environment relationships.

Looking across borders – the recent rise of the Dutch Green Party

by Bregje van Veelen

Looking across borders – the recent rise of the Dutch Green Party

Although we’re a network of mostly UK-based researchers, we like to keep an eye on what else is happening in the world. This month: a closer look at the recent rise of the Dutch Green party.

Image result for groenlinks

A week before the parliamentary elections on 15 March the Dutch Green Party (GroenLinks – GreenLeft) arranged an election hustings in a concert hall in Amsterdam – 5,000 people attended. As many followed the event online. The following week the party won 14 seats: a significant increase from the four seats it held during the previous parliamentary term. While still only the 5th largest party (out of 13) in the 150-seat Dutch parliament it was the best ever national electoral performance for the party. It also looks likely that the Greens will be part of the governing coalition. That’s right, 6 weeks after the election there is still no government – they like to take their time to form a coalition in the Netherlands.

So what  helped the Green party do so well and does this mean the Netherlands is now a country of environmentalists?

“What makes the Green party so sexy?”

It’s difficult to imagine this question being asked about the Scottish Green Party or the Green Party of England and Wales, but it does reflect the current image of the Dutch Greens: suddenly the party has moved away from its ‘geitenwollensokken’(1) image and has become trendy. This is not least because of the party’s new, popular, young, Justin Trudeau look-a-like leader Jesse Klaver. Klaver is a youthful 30 years old and it is perhaps not surprising that the party is currently polling particularly well among the 25-34 age group. The party’s message is one of sustainability, Europe and focused on the future, the antithesis of the right-wing PvV (Freedom Party) led by Geert Wilders. Some have attributed Klaver’s popularity to his hopeful message. Highly-educated young people (among whom the Green Party does particularly well) feel like they have grown up in a world of cynicism and negativity, but do not personally tend to see globalisation or migration as a threat. They are young enough to not be overly concerned about mortgages and pensions but are concerned about issues such as inequality and the environment. Plus, they’re sufficiently optimistic that a better world is possible, and want to contribute to that.

But surely, everyone in the Netherlands is an environmentalist anyway, otherwise you’d be under water?

No, not really. Perhaps influenced by images of millions of cyclists, people are sometimes quick to assume that the Netherlands is at the forefront of radical environmental policy. Whilst there are indeed more bicycles than people, the country does not perform as well in other areas. It is performing poorly on renewable energy, and currently it looks like the Government will miss the 2020 targets. The Dutch target is for 14% of all energy to be produced by renewable sources by 2020 (which in itself is already lower than the 16% European average target). Last year it managed to achieve just half of that (7%).

With the Green Party (possibly) in government, is the Netherlands is going to lead the way on climate action from now on? 

Again, probably not. Dutch political culture is known as the ‘polder model’, a consensus-based approach to decision-making. The approach partly stems from the proportional representation electoral system which favours collaboration over adversary. Coalition governments are the norm: all governments in the last 100 years have been collaborations between two to five political parties. In environmental decision-making the consensus-based model has also been extended beyond the realm of political parties, bringing other stakeholders into the decision-making process. For example, the 2013 Energy Agreement, which sets out energy policy until 2023, was developed through a collaborative process, including 47 stakeholders ranging from Shell to environmental NGOs. While this means that the Agreement has a broad support base and have therefore perhaps a higher rate of success, it also means that any decisions are supported by incumbent interests and thus are unlikely to be very radical in nature. The new government, if they manage to form a coalition, will consist of the Green Party, D66 (comparable to the British Liberal Democrats) and the centre-right VVD and CDA parties. While the VVD tried to project a ‘Green Conservatives’-like image during the election campaign, it’s policy record from the last four year shows little evidence of any transformational environmental policies. While a government including the Green Party and D66 will be somewhat more environmentally-inclined, few think it will deliver radical change.

What about local action? Are communities going to lead the way?

As in the UK, there has been a lot of talk in recent years of a move towards a more participatory society, where people are expected to take on roles and duties that may have previously been delivered by governments. One fundamental difference with the UK is the number and relative strength of local authorities. There are 388 of them, which is almost identical to the UK’s 391 local authorities, but covering a much smaller area and population. The largest local authority in the UK is Highland council, covering 25,657km2, more than 55 times the size of the largest Dutch local authority. Dutch local control and decision-making powers than their UK counterparts. And a number of them are implementing more radical environmental measures than the Dutch Government is. Some of the larger cities are taking the lead with innovative projects, trying to ‘outgreen’ each other. In smaller places there has been a real growth in collaborative projects between authorities and community groups, which does not appear to be as common in the UK. Of course not all environmental action is collaborative and cooperative in nature. In 2015 a group of Dutch citizens took the government to court for not doing enough on climate change, and won. The state has appealed the decision, but if upheld, then it will force the government to implement more radical change.

At the moment it therefore looks that despite the electoral success of the Green party, it might be citizens and lower levels of government who’ll be leading the way on climate change.



(1)  Geitenwollensokken drager. Literal translation: someone who wears socks made of goats’ wool. Meaning: a tree-hugger.

Image credentials: the local Schouwen-Duivenland GroenLinks branch, https://schouwen-duiveland.groenlinks.nl/



Image credit: ‘Sheffield: The Steel City’  © Matt Cockayne, Goo Design

by Mags Tingey

RIPPLES 2.0, our second group meeting, was held in the Steel City at Sheffield Hallam University, on 9-10 January 2017. Rather than endless research updates, we structured our meeting around discussion between fellow RIPPLERs. To that end, and much to my delight, PowerPoint wasn’t fired up once.

As a new group we’d already decided it was important for us to take stock and look forward. What have we achieved over the last year since our first meeting in Edinburgh (March 2016)? And what role has RIPPLES as a group played in that? What do we want to do, and importantly, think we can do, over the next year?

With that in mind, we first spent time taking stock, engineered through a ‘non-cringe worthy’ ice-breaker helpfully introduced by Tim Braunholtz-Speight. And by golly there was so much to congratulate our fellow RIPPLERs about. Vivas had been successfully defended, PhDs awarded, whilst for other studies had just started. There were also new jobs, papers resubmitted, and data collection finally finished. Plus, new babies, cats, and flats. Landmark milestones were aplenty!

After such an enthusiastic start, we got down to the business of discussing papers that some of us have been working on. Will Eadson and Mike Foden outlined their paper on Energy Markets, Communities and the State, whilst I got helpful input and ideas for a paper about the potential for local benefits to be secured from local government engagement with energy. Unfortunately, Bregje van Veelen, who was stuck at the far end of travel disruption in Georgia, was unable to sketch out her paper on energy democracy.

After an evening of not very successful though fiercely competitive pub quizzing, we reconvened on the following morning to look forward and set out a plan to conquer the world (of publishing and conferences). With the support of Jen Dickie, we identified two review papers to collectively write. One on decentralised energy and one on the use of ‘community’ in environmental policy. Conference highlights included Gerry Taylor Aiken coordinating a group of us to submit a session proposal to The Value of Life: Measurement, Stakes, Implications conference in The Netherlands.

So what remains? Although we’re each addressing similar questions from different angles, we confirmed that by coming together we’re able to share knowledge and build on each other’s work. This will, we hope, support discussions on new conceptual thinking about the policy and practice of local environmental sustainability, enable more informed research outputs, and help identify the many research gaps that still exist.

But ‘wait’ I hear you say, ‘put that academic stuff aside’, ‘wasn’t there mention of a pub quiz?’ Indeed, there was, and it would be wrong of me not to end with our most important discoveries of RIPPLES 2.0:

  • that Monday is a very popular night for pub quizzes in Sheffield
  • that very few of us knew much about David Bowie and his many aliases
  • what Rheas are
  • the identities of some surprising vegetarians
  • and what Alan Bennett would sound like with a Scottish accent

The first RIPPLES in the water

by Tim Braunholtz-Speight

Billed as “all the best bits of a conference (the conversations) without the boring bits (the presentations)”, the inaugural meeting of the RIPPLES network was held at the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation on 14 – 15 March 2016.

After the icebreakers had established vital community statistics such as who had the strangest family customs, and who had visited the most boring place, we moved into discussion of the papers we had submitted as our influences or inspirations. These revealed that we like papers that combine theoretical with empirical work, and that are readable and accessible. Key conceptual themes emerged: placing localism in a multi-level context; critically analysing ideas and practices of “community” to avoid romanticising or dismissing them; and similarly taking a “details matter” approach to broader societal changes like the spread of neoliberalism. We are keen to look at issues of inequality, justice, and power; and do empirical work on energy, money, sustainability – and “why people do things”.

In the next session we shared our current research and our interests for future projects. As well as the readings themes – especially energy, community, and justice – we were interested in working on democracy, transparency, planning, cultural economy, and natural resource rights. Methodological points were also raised: about “hybridity” as a theme, about impact as an object of study, and ethical reflexivity as to our impact on and engagement with the people and practices we study.

The group then repaired to Heema bar and restaurant to take food and refreshment, and to discuss work and other matters, until the weary bar staff gave us a five minute warning to leave before they locked up.

The following morning, following an inconclusive self-organising exercise, session organisers grouped us into tables around “community and environmental justice”, “economy” and “social impact and democracy”: a practical demonstration of “power with” vs “power over” in community consultations! The “social impact” table made considerable headway towards developing an innovative research project. Others didn’t get that far, but were productive in terms of initial ideas and mechanisms for continuing collaboration to refine them further. We then worked into the afternoon on collaborative paper proposals, again with a wide range of ideas, and some writing partnerships forming.

After a late lunch, we discussed the way ahead. Time was devoted to the details of ensuring that the website will be fit for the purpose of facilitating further discussion and project development. Establishing a user-friendly online discussion forum was felt to be a key priority. In terms of more face-to-face networking, there will hopefully be a RIPPLES-sponsored session at the RGS conference in September, and then a further members event early next year – venue to be confirmed. Various people took on responsibility to draft position papers on some of the issues that had been discussed over the course of the workshop.

Defining who’s in and who isn’t is a key issue for any community. Of course, being a member of RIPPLES doesn’t preclude anyone from also working with other people! But we also discussed whether we should expand the formal membership of RIPPLES, given that we all knew other people whose work and interests could “fit in” relatively easily. However, it was decided that RIPPLES was still at an early stage of development as a group, and that we would stay at the same size for now. As the group became more established,  the possibility of expanding membership could be discussed again. Yet there was a strong sense that the answer to the agenda question “Is this RIPPLES thing worth continuing with?” was “Yes!”. People then trickled away to their homes and trains, with the words “see you on the forum” ringing in their ears.

What did we take away from RIPPLES 1? I can’t speak for others; but for me the benefits included: the renewal of old connections and the making of new ones; inspiration and ideas for future work, including a great collectively-produced literature review; and validation of many of the things I had been turning around in my head on these topics. Now back in the bustle of everyday life, other things inevitably take priority in the short term – but it was a useful and positive (and enjoyable!) beginning.