Narratives, Identities, and Visions for Sustainable Futures

Organizer: Ilan Chabay
Format: Online, Morning

Narratives are a fundamental aspect of human communication. In many forms – songs, sagas, paintings, stories – narratives express visions of a desired or feared future or reflect social and individual identities. Narrative expressions of social identity circulate in societies and maintain coherence of culture and practice, while narrative visions indicate a future to which the society aspires (or fears). Certain visions about the future become prominent and actionable, while others are not. Social identity relates to motivation of members of the in-group or outsiders to join or oppose a particular vision. Systems thinkers including Meadows have emphasized the power of paradigmatic visions for transitions in socio-ecological systems. Narratives about sustainable futures depend on context, actors and communities involved, as well as sector/topic in question. As stories, they describe perspectives on situations, actors, challenges, resolutions and lessons. In order to be effective in bringing a society together in transformative action, the narrative expressions need to be plausible in the local context, resonate with local culture, frame issues in relevant terms, align with local norms, and provide rationale and motivation for commitment to the vision. Where they bring together multiple stakeholders and are perpetuated and evolving over time, we believe they provide localised insights into key elements and dynamics of co-evolving socio-technical systems, including some of the beliefs and experiences that enable and constrain agency for different actors. In this dialogue session we will explore and discuss examples of narratives and evidence of their impact in shaping or obstructing collective behavior change toward sustainable futures in the culture and context of different communities as they address the need for transformation in aspects of sustainability most relevant to each community, including for example food and energy consumption and production.

Themes: Integrated Action for the SDGs, Knowledge-to-Action