Shared narratives of justice and time in the transition

Håvard Haarstad, The Times of a Just Transition
Project status

Building on research exploring the disruptions and instabilities of sustainable transitions (Haarstad and Wanvik, 2017; Wanvik and Haarstad, 2021), our work will bring the temporal dimension into understandings of resistance to transitions and how these resistances are mediated. It explores the potential for creating shared narratives of justice in transitions across a diversity of actors typically positioned in conflicts of interest. Across Europe, policies intended to stimulate sustainability transitions have been met with resistance and contestation, challenging assumptions that transitions will emerge through linear progression in time. The paradigmatic resistance movement is perhaps the Gilets Jaunes, but there are also strong elements of resistance to sustainability transition policies in the Brexit discourse and populist movements across Europe and North America (Fraune and Knodt 2018; Lockwood 2018). In line with populist rhetorics, sustainability transition ideas are dismissed as “elite” and counter to the interests of “the people”. There are also other forms of contestation from labour movements, rural residents and marginalized groups who argue that the way sustainability transitions are framed economically is detrimental to their livelihoods. These resistances have disrupted assumptions of linear progress towards sustainable transitions (Wanvik and Haarstad, 2021, and forced analysts to consider multiple temporal paths towards transition, including regression.

This project aims to explore conflicting notions of temporal justice amongst divergent groups of actors, and experiment with forms of personal and public dialogue to broaden the space for exploring pathways towards shared narratives. This is not to suggest that divergent understandings of justice can easily be overcome, since they can be rooted in fundamental economic interests and deep-seated cultural-historical trajectories. But it hypothesizes that proper forms of dialogue, negotiation and exposure to diversity of values can open people of divergent positions to greater forms of shared understanding, and potentially, shared narratives of justice in sustainability transition. Specifically, we will explore whether a shared consideration for long time horizons of transitions can help people move beyond their entrenched positions in the immediate present.

The project will build on experiments for coproduction of knowledge in the climate science community, including the Centre for Climate and Energy Transformation, in Bergen over recent years (for an example, see Kvamsås et al, 2020). We will here focus on two experimental techniques for dialogue between groups with divergent interests, provisionally tested in Bergen between 2020 and 2022. The first is a method called “Gjestebud”, or “hospitality dialogues”, tested by the Climate Section of Bergen municipality with input and contributions from us. It encourages people to invite others to dialogue around a set of predefined questions concerning climate justice. The idea is that the personal format of the conversation can create situations that reduce polarization and stereotyping. The second method consists of the creation of a board game where players discuss climate justice questions as a part of the play (early experience with this is discussed in Wanvik and Bjørnstad, 2023). The idea is that the game lowers barriers for dialogue among groups not typically engaged in political discussion. We will add to both of these experiments by exploring what happens in the game play when we introduce different temporal frames and rhythms of change, and examine how the consideration of diverse temporal frames influence people’s ability to move beyond polarizing notions of self-interest. We will also draw on other work in the programme - specifically Hom’s work on the temporal background to far right movements and Lazar’s work on apocalyptic thinking in extremist and activist groups, to inform the design of this game play.

The objective is that by using these, and potentially similar techniques, we can create dialogue around what counts as justice in sustainability transitions between groups typically not engaging in such discussions, which in turn opens for shared forms of understanding. In this way, the project explores the potential for renegotiating divergent understanding of justice in transitions and for creating shared narratives of transition across a diversity of actors typically positioned in conflicts of interest.


Fraune, C., and M. Knodt. 2018. Sustainable energy transformation in an age of populism, post-truth politics and local resistance. Energy Research & Social Science 43:1–7.

Haarstad, H, and Wanvik, T. 2017. Carbonscapes and beyond: conceptualizing the instabilities of oil landscapes. Progress in Human Geography, 41(3), 432-450.

Kvamsås, H, Neby, S. Haarstad, H., Stiller-Reeve, M. and Schrage, J. 2021 Using collaborative hackathons to coproduce knowledge on local climate adaptation governance

Current Research in Environmental Sustainability 3, 100023.

Lockwood, M. 2018. Right-wing populism and the climate change agenda: Exploring the linkages. Environmental Politics 27 (4):712–32.

Wanvik, T. and Bjørnstad, H. 2023. Inclusive sustainability: gaming as a tool for participation in urgent planning. In: Haarstad, H., Grandin, J., Kjærås, K. and Johnson, E. (eds.) Haste: The slow politics of climate urgency. UCL Press.

Wanvik, T. and Haarstad, H. 2021. Populism, Instability and Rupture in Sustainability Transformations. Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 111(7), pp. 2096-2111.

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