Temporalities of Biography and Infrastructure at the Intersection of Social Activism and Social Enterprise

Bronwen Morgan, The Times of a Just Transition
Project status

Across Australia we are seeing a series of ‘regen’ collectives that are aiming to develop regenerative justice in Australia’s cities. From Melbourne to Sydney and Brisbane, these are currently grass-roots community dialogue initiatives aiming to articulate fresh narratives and policy pathways around regenerative and distributive economies, driven by broad conceptions of wellbeing and thriving. The Australian initiatives are part of a global flowering of similar local urban experiments, documented and supported by the global Doughnut Economics Action Lab. They raise the fundamental temporal question: how can we effectively design new forms of eco-social enterprise that channel the energy and values of dynamic and sometimes shortlived social and environmental activism into entities that endure and thrive over the long term? What forms of legal and regulatory infrastructure can ensure that such transitions from innovation to infrastructure are both socially and ecologically just? How does participation in these initiatives create permanent (or not) shifts in individual narratives and biographies?

This study will develop a longitudinal temporal lens to study these transitions from grassroots initiatives towards more sustained eco-social enterprise and eco-social identities in Australia and the UK. It will do this by putting the study of the contemporary ‘regen’ initiatives into dialogue with a previous socio-legal empirical study that aimed to help both policymakers and ordinary citizens understand better how formal laws block or facilitate eco-social initiatives (Morgan and Thorpe 2018).

The project will do this by first re-analysis and then re-framing, through a temporal lens, of data from a substantive study conducted in the early 2010s of 20 case studies in Australia and UK. These studies comprised five types of community-based social enterprises that emerged as creative responses to resource depletion and climate change: car-sharing, community-owned energy, community-supported agriculture, co-working and reuse/recycle projects (Morgan and Kuch 2015; 2016).

In year one I will work with a Research Associate to recode the original interview transcripts, with a focus on the complex temporal dynamics of transitions from innovation to infrastructures (McDermont, Morgan and Noorani 2021).

In year two I will re-analyse data collected in the original project from LinkedIn, moving away from the original focus on substantive expertise towards a reinterpretation in terms of biographical career trajectories (Morgan and Kuch 2017), with productive links to the work of Michel Alhadeff Jones on the rhythms of life histories, and the potential for long-term educational and pedagogical changes to eco-social identities (Morgan and Thorpe 2022 in press).

In year 3 I will design a set of co-produced experiments to build on the findings of Year 1 and 2 in partnership with contemporary ‘regen’ initiatives at the local urban level in Australia (Regen Sydney and Regen Melbourne in particular) and cognate initiatives in New Zealand, collaborating with Wendy Larner. While the precise design of these experiments cannot be known in advance (Morgan, Thorpe and Cooper 2021), they will draw from this archival study as well as the work of Convening Programme in Years 1 and 2. Our focus will be specifically on supporting emergent eco-social enterprises to explore what it takes to constitute changed identities and shift grassroots projects to sustainable and just legal and regulatory infrastructures.

The value of this dialogue between past studies and present activism, is that these past studies provided some – as yet underdeveloped and undertheorised – clues to how temporal frames in activists and enterpreneurs’ thinking and practices, as well as in legal and regulatory processes, structure and impede the establishment of new eco-social realities. New thinking in Critical Time studies, however, will help to draw out these frames and practices more clearly – helping us to achieve a better understanding of how to support contemporary transitions from innovation to infrastructure.

Overall, temporal insights into the granular aspects of both the original research and longitudinal perspectives on it, will enliven my current conceptual work on prefigurative legality (Thorpe and Morgan 2022; Morgan 2023; Cohen and Morgan 2023) and will, in dialogue with the Collaborative Research Network on Utopian Legalities, Prefigurative Politics and Radical Governance (Morgan, Thorpe and Cooper 2021), enliven the potential for transformative reconfiguration of professional expertise and policy opportunities in relation to just transitions.

Specifically, the project will involve:

  • Mapping the diverse temporal frames at stake in the practices and worldviews of entrepreneurs and activists to clarify what work they do
  • Identifying points of tension between temporal frames that raise issues of justice
  • eg tension between the temporal pressures of commodification and activist visions of inclusive participation
  • eg contestation between apocalyptic frames of emergency and urgency and the recognition of allowing time for regenerative processes to take hold
  • Exploring whether temporal tools of regulation and coordination can be deployed in support of distributed plurality rather than centralized standardization, particularly distributed plurality that recognizes time as complex and emergent
  • eg through legal requirements of adaptive management
  • Experimenting with ways of building dialogical bridges between contemporary forms of professional scientific expertise and indigenous ways of knowing, the latter of which is now much more strongly present in public discourse
  • eg tracking how ‘regen’ initiatives in New Zealand reframe the scientific framework for doughnut economics to create space for non-linear cyclical time
  • eg exploring how bioregional governance standards and practices acknowledge the status of non-human beings in economic change

References cited

Cohen, A. and B. Morgan (2023), ‘Prefigurative Legality’, Law and Social Inquiry (in press)

McDermont, M., Morgan, B., & Noorani, T. (2021). Infrastructures collaboratives pour une justice sociale. In M. Borgetto, & G. Gadbin-George (Eds.), Le tiers secteur en France et au Royaume-Uni Déclin ou perfectionnement de l'Etat-providence ?. Paris: Pantheon-Assas.

Morgan, B. (2023), ‘Law and Social Innovation’ in Jurgen Howaldt and Christoph Kaletka (eds), Handbook on Social Innovation, Elsevier Publishing (in press)

Morgan, B. and D. Kuch. 2015. “Radical Transactionalism: Legal Consciousness, Diverse Economies, and the Sharing Economy.” Journal of Law and Society 42 (4): 556–87.

Morgan, B. and D. Kuch. 2016. “The Socio-Legal Implications Of The New Politics Of Climate Change.” UNSW Law Journal 39 (4): 1715–40.

Morgan, B. and D. Kuch. 2017. “Sharing Subjects and Legality: Ambiguities in Moving Beyond Neoliberalism.” In Assembling Neoliberalism: Expertise, Practices, Subjects, edited by Vaughan Higgins and Wendy Larner, 219–41. New York: Palgrave Macmillan US.

Morgan, Bronwen, and Amelia Thorpe. 2018. Law for a New Economy: Enterprise, Sharing, Regulation. Vol. 45. Journal of Law and Society 1-175 (special issue).

Morgan, B. and A. Thorpe (2022), ‘Pedagogies of hope’, International Journal of Law in Context (in press)

Morgan, B., Thorpe, A., & Cooper, D. (2021). The hopeful edges of power: Radical governance and acting ‘as if’. Griffith Review, 73, 233-245.

Thorpe, A., & Morgan, B. (2022). Prefigurative Legality: Rethinking Municipal Jurisdiction. Urban Studies: an international journal for research in urban studies, 58(13).

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