Wednesday, 23 November 2016
THE POLITICAL CULTURE OF A DEMOCRATIC ROUTE TOWARDS SUSTAINABLE PROSPERITY
Marit Hammond, Keele University
Why would voters support policies that would leave them potentially materially worse off? In her presentation, CUSP co-investigator Marit Hammond re-considers the link between democracy and sustainability from the angle of political culture, arguing that conceiving of both sustainability and democratisation as essentially cultural transformations resolves the puzzle and thus makes a renewed case for a democratic route towards sustainability.
In the debate around democratic responses to the sustainability challenge, a pivotal point of contention has long been the question why democracy should actually be expected, as some claim, to deliver (more) environmentally sustainable outcomes. This point is empirical as well as conceptual: It is difficult to conceive why voters would support any policies that would leave them materially worse off; whilst democracy conceptually must remain open to all possible outcomes rather than being tied to any particular agenda ex ante. Yet both empirically and conceptually, the nature and extent of this key puzzle has always hinged on the particular definitions used. This presentation re-considers the link between democracy and sustainability from the angle of political culture: Marit argues that conceiving of both sustainability and democratisation as essentially cultural transformations resolves the puzzle and thus makes a renewed case for a democratic route towards sustainability.
On the one hand, if sustainability must ultimately include societies’ ability to voluntarily – i.e. with popular support – render themselves ‘worse off’ in conventional material terms, it hinges on a fundamental change in perception of what prosperity means to people; and since culture stands for ‘meaning-making’, this must be a cultural transformation. On the other hand, if the ecological significance of democracy is its unique openness to precisely the critical interrogations and inclusive dialogue that create such public reflection, it must go beyond an operationalisation in narrow institutional terms, resting instead in the nature and scope of the critical public discourse only an identity-driven, bottom-up political culture can produce.
The realm of culture, as the sphere in society where meaning-making and identity formation take place, is then central to both the sustainability transformation and the process of democratisation it rests on. Only as essentially cultural processes – the creation of new meanings of sustainable prosperity in people’s everyday lives, and a culturally rather than institutionally based form of democratisation – can these transformations be deep-seated rather than superficial, and thus self-perpetuating rather than contingent. This new perspective thus resolves the fundamental puzzle of environmental democracy whilst offering new starting points for the governance of sustainable prosperity.