An empirical investigation of social capital and social networks at local scale through resistance to lower–carbon infrastructure

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The energy sector, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, is a major focus of government climate change mitigation policies. To this end lower–carbon infrastructure (LCI) developments are likely to increase. However, oppositional local

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  An Empirical Investigation of Social Capital andNetworks at Local Scale through Resistanceto Lower-Carbon Infrastructure CARMEL ANDERSON AND JACKI SCHIRMER Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian NationalUniversity, Canberra, Australia The energy sector, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, is a major focusof government climate change mitigation policies. To this end, lower-carboninfrastructure (LCI) developments are likely to increase. However, oppositional local social networks regularly slow or halt LCI proposals during the public partici- pation processes conducted during planning. Using social capital as a conceptual lens, an analytical framework is developed with the aim of improving currentunderstanding of local resistance. Specifically, the framework analyses the lifecycleof social networks through two case studies that explore resistance to a wind  farm and a gas-fired power plant. The analysis identifies reasons for the formation,operation, dissipation, and endurance of the social networks. The article is relevantto public participation processes in natural resource management and infrastructure proposals in the rural and outer urban fringe. Keywords  lower-carbon infrastructure, resistance, social capital, social networks High atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) levels have resulted in calls from the WorldBank (2013) for governments to increase carbon emission mitigation efforts.The energy sector, as the largest source of emissions, is an ongoing focus of mitigation strategies (International Energy Agency 2013). Governments are adopt-ing multiple strategies to reduce CO 2  emissions, including investing in lower-carboninfrastructure (LCI) such as windfarms and gas-fired power plants (InternationalEnergy Agency 2013).However, some communities strongly oppose the construction of newinfrastructure resulting in the cancellation or delay of LCI developments (Wolsink2010; Mu¨ller, Brown, and O¨ lz 2011). An example is wind farms. Resistance to windfarms typically begins with one of two main foci: compatibility of the infrastructurewith the landscape, and a perceived exclusion from decision making during publicparticipation (Wolsink 2007). Received 29 October 2013; accepted 2 June 2014.Address correspondence to Carmel Anderson, Fenner School of Environment andSociety, College of Medicine, The Australian National University, Biology and Environment,Forestry Building (48), Canberra 0200, Australia. E-mail: carmel.anderson@anu.edu.auColor versions of one or more of the figures in the article can be found online atwww.tandfonline.com/usnr. Society and Natural Resources, 0:1–17Copyright # 2015 Taylor & Francis Group, LLCISSN: 0894-1920 print = 1521-0723 onlineDOI: 10.1080/08941920.2015.1014599 1  Resistance to infrastructure is routinely driven by small groups with high stocksof social capital, an enabler of effective opposition and public participation (Putnam2000; Anderson 2013). Historically, developers have labeled local opposition groupsas ‘‘NIMBYs’’ (‘‘Not In My Backyard’’), suggesting that motivations are largelybased on self interest (Wolsink 2007). Such labeling stifles discussion about thereasons for opposition, and disadvantages developers from identifying and address-ing underlying community concerns. In an examination of community perceptionsabout the risk of waste facilities, Wolsink and Devilee (2009) found that rather thanselfish NIMBYism, the community’s concerns were about exclusion from decisionmaking, potential impacts on neighbors, and injustice in terms of the equity of sitingthe infrastructure. This indicates that the foci for resistance are conflated under theNIMBY label. The foci for resistance investigated in this article are: .  Incompatibility of the infrastructure with the landscape. .  Exclusion from decision making, defined here as people being excluded fromhaving a say in the siting of infrastructure developments, which they perceive willaffect their local environment (Hunold and Young 1998). Resistance Community resistance to infrastructure begins when the community first hears aboutthe development during the public participation phase of planning (Wolsink 2007). Itis typically attributed to the impact of LCI on the landscape or exclusion fromdecision making during planning where values-based concerns are triggered(Wolsink 2007; Devine-Wright 2009; Harding, Hendriks, and Faruqi 2009). Thefollowing section examines each of these concerns, beginning with the landscapeimpacts concerns as they relate to place attachment. Disruption to Place Attachment  Place attachment exists where individuals are connected emotionally and cognitivelyto place. In many cultures significant places add meaning to people’s lives throughthe creation and reinforcement of important values and goals, making places partof an individual’s identity (Giuliani 2003; Trentelman 2009). For example, studiesfrom the United States, the United Kingdom, and Spain have found that placeattachment is strongly associated with place-protective behavior such as resistanceto proposed or actual LCI that individuals perceive as changing significant places(Herna´ndez et al. 2007; Devine-Wright and Howes 2010; Brehm, Eisenhauer, andStedman 2013). A threatened disruption to place attachment occurs when landscapesconsidered significant by individuals become the focus of incompatible industrialdevelopments (Devine-Wright 2009).Place attachment offers additional avenues for research on LCI. Brehm,Eisenhauer, and Stedman (2013) note that little empirical research has exploredthe role of place attachment and environmental concerns. This point also appliesto research in the development of community-appropriate sustainable energy LCI.Additionally, knowledge about how communities organize to collectively under-take place-protective behaviors, or resistance, is limited despite suggestions thatsocial capital is actualized through place (Lewicka 2011). Such an examinationinvolves place-attachment theory and social capital concepts (Lewicka 2011).  2 C. Anderson and J. Schirmer  Whileplaceattachmentisaconsiderablefactorinresistanceforsomecommunities,values-based concerns connected with fairness in decision making reflect the bulk of opposition to LCI (Harding, Hendriks, and Faruqi 2009). These are considered next. Fair Decision Making The Aarhus Convention on Access to Information provides guidance internationallyon best-practice principles of public participation. The convention states that thepurpose of public participation is to ensure people’s right to be a partner withauthorities in decisions that directly affect their local environment (United NationsEconomic Commission for Europe 2000). Public participation is an expression of thedemocratic principles of representation, accountability, transparency, and equity(United Nations 2008).Planning policies in many countries including the United Kingdom, UnitedStates, Australia, and those in Europe, informed by the Aarhus Convention andUN policies, guide regulations that ensure that public participation occurs withlocal communities before the development of LCI (United Nations EconomicCommission for Europe 2000; United Nations 2008).Since the rhetoric surrounding public participation strongly supports democraticvalues, community members might expect high levels of participation. However, it isduring public participation that local resistance to LCI developments usually begins(Gross 2007; Anderson 2013). Researchers attribute this to tokenistic and = orexclusive procedures that limit the community’s influence over final planningdecisions. This challenges its democratic values about fairness in decision makingand inadvertently generates the resistance that the poor procedures had intendedto avoid (Barry and Ellis 2010; Barnett et al. 2012).It is worthwhile noting that some communities accept poor process and LCI andthat others, such as those on which this article is focused, resist them. Williamson(2013), investigating post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, LA, noted an increasedinequality between the middle class with educational, political, and economic net-works and the poor, who had substantially fewer of these socioeconomic networks.The middle-class residents were able to participate in the reconstruction process byusing their networks to influence the reconstruction activities in their favor. Thepoor, who had fewer ties to similar influential networks, had substantially lessimpact in influencing authorities and were consistently overlooked.This accords with findings by Blowers (2010), who found that the siting of nuclear infrastructure in the United Kingdom was more likely to occur in communi-ties with few socioeconomic resources, communities that were therefore more likelyto host developments other communities rejected. The poor public participationprocesses, some of which fail to take into account local community socioeconomiccharacteristics, are explored next.Common examples of exclusive participatory process include framing of com-munity characteristics and discourse, both of which aim to streamline processesand achieve acceptance. Maranta et al. (2003) explored exclusive participatory pro-cesses through the concept of the ‘‘imagined layperson.’’ They found that technicalexperts exclude ‘‘the imagined layperson’’ from participation on the assumption thatthe community was unable to fully comprehend technical aspects of the develop-ment. Barnett et al. (2012, 47) found that a lack of understanding of the ‘‘unseendimensions’’ of the community restricted opportunities for meaningful discourse Investigating Local Social Capital and Networks 3  during public participation. Framing the discourse to avoid opposition disaffectedpossible supporters of a development (Barnett et al. 2012). Similarly, Breukers andWolsink (2007) argued that developers lost potential support from undecidedcommunity members when limited decision-making processes turned their conditionalsupport into opposition.Groves, Munday, and Yakovleva (2013) contend that new efforts in neo-liberaleconomies to implement effective public participation processes may be compro-mised when risk-averse private developers protect their investments through astreamlined development process. Streamlined planning processes typically limitthe community’s role in decision making to avoid protracted planning processesand expedite acceptance (Barry and Ellis 2010; Blowers 2010). However, evidencesuggests that communities with an expectation to participate based on their demo-cratic values and high social capital stocks are unlikely to allow an easy passagefor acceptance (Anderson 2013).It is axiomatic that values-based resistance resulting from unfair decisionmaking is likely to occur in communities that have an expectation to participateowing to high stocks of social capital. Community resistance to LCI is organizedand enacted through informal networks, which may not represent a majoritycommunity view (Anderson 2013). The social capital concept is explored next toprovide context to this current research. The Formation, Operation, and Dissipation of Social Capital When applying the concept of social capital to understand how resistance to LCIemerges and resolves, it is critical to consider how it develops, operates, declines,or changes. Social capital begins as a resource held by individuals but is operationa-lized through social networks (Woolcock 2010).It comprises two main domains, bonding and bridging capital. For the purposesof this article, bonding capital explains how network members work collectively. Itcomprises strong ties that are developed and maintained through regular personalcontact between families, close friends, small communities, and social organizations.These ties facilitate the development of shared identities and social norms andcapacity for collective action (Putnam 2000; Burt 2005). Bridging capital increasesopportunities for collective action through weak ties that connect individualsto diverse social, cultural, and economic networks and their resources (Granovetter1973; Burt 2005).Bonding and bridging capital develop and operate when networks that functionthrough norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness come together to act collectively(Ostrom and Ahn 2007; Woolcock 2010). The cycle of development and operationcontinues as network members build and renew their collective resources byincreasing their range of ties or bridges to new networks. Without this cycle,a network’s ties stagnate or decrease, eventually leading to its demise (Burt 2002).Although social capital is acknowledged as a valuable analytic tool forunderstanding complex social problems, for example, in planning, natural resourcemanagement, and climate change adaptation, the concept is considered under-theorized (Woolcock 2004; Pelling and High 2005; Klyza, Isham, and Savage 2006).This is the case when applying bonding and bridging capital to explainthe formation, operation, endurance, and dissipation of social networks (Leonard2004; Pelling and High 2005; Ohno, Tanaka, and Sakagami 2010; Prashantham 4 C. Anderson and J. Schirmer  and Dhanaraj 2010). For example, research from Northern Ireland and Japan hasfound that bridging capital can grow at the expense of bonding capital whengovernments intervene either to assist with economic development or to leadnatural resource management participatory processes (Leonard 2004; Ohnoet al. 2010). This contradicts oversimplified theory that claims the transition frombonding to bridging capital is beneficial to the community (Leonard 2004).Illustrating this, Edwards and Onyx (2007) found that social capital grew whenlong-term rural residents in Queensland, Australia, drew on existing bonding capitalto secure bridging capital in order to resist the development of a shopping center thatwas considered a threat to environmental values. The authors found that boundariesbetween bonding and bridging capital merged and the relationship between the twodomains was more complicated than generally believed.Hanna, Dale, and Ling (2009), following research in British Columbia, Canada,questioned whether social capital could be formed through stress or conflict duringurban planning, thus raising a burgeoning area of social capital research: the connec-tion of place with the development of social capital. Lewicka (2011) in a review of 400 articles published within the past 40 years from various countries suggests thata significant place to which communities are attached may result in the developmentof networks that resist developments. However, research is needed to develop theoryon how place attachment can support the development and operation of socialcapital (Lewicka 2011).Pelling and High (2005), while noting the theoretical weaknesses of social capitalalready described, have found that the complex web of social ties within a com-munity provided its best resource for climate-change adaptation, but argued thatpolicy development was hampered by a lack of knowledge about formation andoperation of social capital. Similarly, Prashantham and Dhanaraj (2010) foundthrough a case study in Bangalore, India, that their work in new business ventureswas hampered by a lack of knowledge about the formation, operation, and declineof networks.For LCI to assist in the reduction of CO 2  emissions, it is critical to understandcommunity responses to infrastructure developments by studying the social dyna-mics of local networks and identities, particularly during the public participation phaseof development proposals when resistance begins (Devine-Wright 2005; Gross 2007).We contribute to this understanding by exploring the research question: Why dosocial networks form around LCI development proposals and how do they operatein and around the public participation processes? We explore these questionsthrough a cross-case analysis of two case studies of networks that resisted LCI devel-opments, situated in southeastern Australia: opposition to a rural wind farm, andresistance to an urban gas-fired power plant. We have developed a framework toguide the analysis. The conceptual lens for the framework uses the social capitaldomains of bonding and bridging capital.Since social capital is rarely applied to the understanding of communityresponses to infrastructure developments during public participation, the cross-caseanalysis is expected to contribute to the current knowledge of the contestedconcept. Consequently, the aim of this article is to make a contribution to two areasof knowledge: .  Local resistance to LCI. .  The social capital concept within the context of resistance to LCI. Investigating Local Social Capital and Networks 5
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