Ecovillages as Change Agents of Societal Transformation
Ecovillages are change agents as models of sustainable lifestyles implementing structural change and intending a political statement. They are intentional communities with larger settlement structures designed and owned by their inhabitants, oriented to live within ecological boundaries and fulfill their socio-cultural needs of community, autonomy, participation and personal development. As complex socio-ecological systems they show a diversity of innovative sustainable practices, institutions and systems of these: They share common goods, property and sometimes income as well as norms and values of a sustainable lifestyle. Established ecovillages show that sustainable societal systems are possible.
There is potential that these change agents can alter the 'mainstream' regime. Ecovillages emerged from civil society and have formally and internationally organised, interact more intensely with the political and scientific sphere and offer increasingly popular seminars to the public. However, their immaterial aspects of community and autonomy as well as their diverse approaches towards sustainability make their impact complex to assess. Recent research acknowledges ecovillages as change agents contributing to a societal transformation by a "silent revolution" creating small-scale places of resilience (KUNZE 2015). However, no framework allows assessing their impact on changes to the interlinked elements of the established regime, centering them as complex socio-ecological systems and diagnosing barriers and opportunities to overcome the (re)production of unsustainble practices.
This thesis developed such a framework using concepts on multiple levels of change (GEELS 2011), complex socio-ecological systems (OSTROM 2006, POTEETE et al. 2010) and practices-as-entities (SHOVE et al. 2012). It is explored how to integrate the change agent’s valued stable practices that formed institutions (rules, norms, forms of organisation). The transformative impact of a change agent is conceptualised as a process of diffusion (SCHOT et al. 2008) of its innovative socio-ecological (ZAPF 1989, CAULIER-GRICE et al. 2012) practices and institutions. Finally, the case of Ökodorf Sieben Linden is analysed in a mixed-method approach to show the explanatory potential of the developed framework.