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Sustainability as a Cultural Transformation: The Role of Deliberative Democracy




What might break the ‘glass ceiling’ that has so far prevented a deep sustainability transformation? I consider the cultural dimension of such a transformation. Cultural meanings not only provide the building blocks of individuals’ life stories, but collectively construct social reality, powerfully shaping how people think and act. Any glass ceiling to societal transformation is partly cultural, and can be reproduced by a society’s ‘political grammar,’ which constrains what can be perceived and politically advanced. Contesting these limits is vital for making glass ceilings visible and opening up new transformative potentials. Consequently, overcoming the glass ceiling of the environmental state must be understood as a cultural transformation: a process of ‘meaning-making’ that re-orientates people’s fundamental norms and outlooks. This adds nuance to the debate around democracy and sustainability; it is not democracy in general, but only a particularly vibrant and critical deliberative sphere that can provide the necessary political foundation.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 22, 2019
Publication Date Oct 29, 2019
Journal Environmental Politics
Print ISSN 0964-4016
Publisher Routledge
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 29
Issue 1
Keywords Sustainability, social transformation, glass ceiling, culture, meaning-making, deliberative democracy
Publisher URL


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