Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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I no longer blog on this site. You can now find me, my general blogs, and the work I am doing researching my forthcoming book on imagination, on my new blog.

22 Oct 2008

LSE Dissertation on Transition Initiatives Now Available

Richard O’Rourke has recently had the unenviable task of writing about peak oil and potential solutions to it as part of a Masters at the London School of Economics, that great bastion of Flat Earth economists.  His dissertation, entitled “Transition Towns: Ecotopia Emerging? The role of Civil Society in escaping Carbon Lock-In” examines the Transition model in the context of the concept of Ecotopia, and of previous green movements.  You can download this excellent piece of work here. It also features in the introduction his story of his ‘peak oil moment’ and his subsequent attempts to communicate that awareness within LSE.  The dissertation itself is a fascinating take on where Transition has got to.

Categories: General

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.


Bob Thorp
24 Oct 1:52pm

Not convinced about the excellence. Read with interest but ultimately thought it a disappointing piece of work. Lacks cogency, rigour and objectivity (what’s with the pronouns littered throughout all the “we” and “us”)I thought this was an MA? O’Rourke is reductive, simplistic and not very original – perhaps the author’s own preconceptions and personal investments in peak oil etc got in the way. It is possible to get too close. Transition’s emergent praxis can be located in much broader and deeper critiques of society – hey there is nothing new under the sun – but these are absent. In Great Britain alone there is a long and diverse history of positive dissenting – take the 16thC Diggers to the Shop Stewards Movement of the 1970s – lots before, between and much after.

The conclusion that “the evidence all points to the nature of our social paradigms precluding us from rationally arriving at his (Hopkin’s) vision of the future. You are either predisposed to believe the “limits” argument of you believe that human ingenuity will continue to deliver, and which you believe is a matter of where your faith lies” is both a false dichotomy (not the only one) and a poor grasp of the dynamics of history and movements that struggle for change. It is not surprising in the least, nor is it a problem, that the “early adopters” in the transition movement are people who share a weltanschauung close to Rob Hopkin’s. but movements are evolutionary coalitions of diverse people explaining the world, finding common ground, and developing a praxis that will take them on a journey. The first draft of the transition song will be recognised by many people and it will be sung most readily by those who already know some of the words but a diversity of people will recognise in it something that resonates with their life experience and will come and join in and in doing so the song and the singers will develop and grow. Unless ultimately the song is rubbish and does not help create.

Have to go and collect kids from school and put tea on, and there’s some garlic to plant.

Richard O'Rourke
27 Oct 2:54pm

Thanks for your feedback Bob,

I would agree with you that Rob was being too generous in his use of the word excellent.

The dichotomy (and a real one) in the feedback between people familiar with the domain and those who are not is worth noting. Those familiar with the domain, like yourself, quickly point out the deficiencies (I include more below from a professor in the field), while those who are not are quite complimentary. I suspect understanding why is worth dwelling upon. At the risk of having the baby thrown out with the bathwater, I must admit to being guilty of having served my own edification at the expense of contributing to the academic canon: the thesis is a 10 week piece of work by someone who came to the social and political sciences late in life and just 12 months ago.

With that caveat, and in the interest of helping people trying to decide whether to invest their time reading what is technically only an average thesis, I will ‘spell out’ (as recommended below) what I believe I can reasonably conclude:

If the bigger questions are: Can we reasonably expect the TT movement to contribute to creating a society independent of fossil fuels? What are its chances of success? How and why will it succeed?

In reality, it’s too early to say, no EDAP project has been attempted to be implemented. Until we start to see the results of an implementation we can’t objectively assess likelihood of success. However, it’s not too early for the movement to learn about itself or how it might be successful.

  • Hopkins’ vision of an ecotopian society is not new
  • The people making up the core teams of TT projects are the kinds of people you would expect i.e. people who get involved in community initiatives with environmental or social objectives
  • A definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result

  • Community is important to people in TTT

  • The WWF report points out that we’re not going to get to where we want to with regard to >80% reduction in CO2 emissions based on current consumer behaviour and the environmental movement needs to re-invent itself in order to make a difference.
    o It suggests changing society towards intrinsic values such as community might be a way to end a consumerist society trying to satisfy extrinsic values such as status.
    o If this is true, TT is on the right track
  • Schellenberg and Nordhaus argue that economic development is required to save the environment, when people’s material needs are met they can start to worry about post-material issues such as a sustainable environment.
    o If the Peak Oil prognosis is correct then this is unlikely to happen – we’re already starting to see EU countries reconsider their commitments to Kyoto in light of the current financial crisis
    o If S&N and the Peak Oil people are correct then TT is irrelevant

You are right to call me out on the statement from my conclusion, it is not a conclusion of the thesis. However, I don’t agree with you that it’s a false dichotomy unless I have misunderstood Kuhn.

Arthur C Clarke once said ‘any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’. When a significant proportion of American society can claim to believe in Creationism instead of Evolution then I assert that today’s society, particularly in the technical and economic fields, is sufficiently complex that for 99% of us who haven’t got the time or the intellect to develop a ‘rational’ understanding of their inner machinations, by default we believe in them as a matter of faith.

S&N quote Max Plank ‘A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.’

My subjective view is that this statement is more likely correct than not.

Feedback from a professor in the field:

I suppose the one word which kept cropping up in my mind was ‘focus’, while the two words which did the same were ‘spell out’

I wonder if in any future draft or spinoff you could improve the focus, and also spell out a little more clearly various things. To illustrate:

• Your research question(s), p 12 etc. You want to ascertain how different TT’s vision is from previous visions of an ecological society, and how TT values are different from traditional environmental organisations and conventional society. Why? I felt that you didn’t leave me understanding this very clearly. What would such a comparison give us? What theorisations about the environmental movement will it cast light on? Spell out.

• One aim is to discover the transgressive potential of TT – but on searching through where you have discussed this, I find that nowhere have you actually spelt out what transgressive means or implies, or how it might be assessed.

• I wasn’t very clear about the purpose of Ch 2. It didn’t really spell out what the values of an ecological society are.

• Neither were they spelt out in any detail in the section on Cotgrove, or in the section on p17 which the subhead says is about these values

– actually you don’t tell us much about them here. Neither does the section on your interview with Hopkins actually spell out what his values are (you tell us what he is against). Ditto, roughly, when it gets to your interview with Callenbach.

• Your discussion seems to say that Hopkins and the EDAP people aren’t very radically green. OK, but so what? How is this useful? I think you need to spell this out

• Conclusion. A bit brief, and your argument would perhaps be clearer if you spelt it out more.


I worried a bit about using Cotgrove to pinpoint the values of environmentalists, ‘using profession by proxy’. Isn’t this a bit risky, esp since this piece of sociological class analysis was done 30 years ago. Maybe things have changed since then, and in any case, Cotgrove’s conclusions were, I think, rebutted by many environmentalists. You might do well to at least be a bit more cautious and provisional in what you say about this.