3S Research Strands

uea rainbow3S research is organised across the following five strands:

Knowledges and Expertise

Different types of knowledge are important when seeking to understand environmental issues: alongside scientific and technical knowledge, experiential, embodied, indigenous and local knowledges are often called upon in public discourse.  The boundaries between these different forms of knowledge are often fluid and they can be expressed through different types of expertise. Confrontations between these different forms of knowledge and expertise can trigger public controversy. This research strand of the 3S Group studies the origins of these different forms of environmental knowledge and how their associated types of expertise are authorised in various social settings. This understanding can contribute to an improved grasp of the dynamics between evidence and policymaking and to appreciating the role and limits of knowledge in contributing to social and cultural change.

Participation and Engagement  

The rise of public participation in science and the environment in all its forms – ranging from institutionalised invited spaces of engagement to those that are uninvited and citizen-led – has the potential to empower citizens, enhance social justice and the quality of decisions, but also to close down, disempower and exclude. Research under this theme involves the study of democratic experiments and innovations in participatory governance. These are reconfiguring relationships between science, policy and society and coproducing knowledges, appraisals and commitments in response to sustainability challenges. Working at the interface between geography, science and technology studies, environmental sociology, risk research, and political and democratic theory, 3S researchers are actively involved in:

  • innovating new participatory designs;
  • analysing participatory experiments across a range of settings, including forms of representation, power, inclusion/exclusion, justice, and learning; and
  • developing a more critical and reflexive research agenda that treats participation as an object of study in itself to better understand how expertises and technologies of participation are constructed, performed,mobilised and have effects in the world.

Policy and Governance

Research in this theme explores the underlying causes, governance challenges and potential policy solutions in the transition to sustainability, particularly with reference to the role of science. ‘Governing’ refers to activities that seek to guide, steer, control or otherwise manage human societies. ‘Governance’ describes the patterns that emerge from these governing activities: administrative organisationssuch as government ministries, formal policies and programmes, and specific instruments such as emissions trading, and also more informal activities of non-state actors operating alongside, and sometimes wholly independent of, governments. While basic science surrounding societal problems may be rarely contested amongst scientists, debates about how to govern the responses have become more intense. The main barriers to collective action are often political and governance-related, not scientific or technological. Research in this theme aims to better understand this complexity and explore potential solutions.

Sustainable Consumption

There is widespread agreement that the affluent lifestyles of the developed countries must shift towards more sustainable forms of consumption. Improving production technologies alone is unlikely to meet the sustainability challenge: attention must turn to the factors which influence and might transform consumption (demand) at the individual, household and community level. With this perspective in mind, our research includes one strand studying a range of initiatives which aim to produce more sustainable behaviours among individual consumers, for example by consuming greener and more efficient products or less products in the first place. A second strand of our work explores what this alternative vision might entail, and how it could be enacted by individuals and communities in search of more sustainable lifestyles. Our research investigates the implications of genuinely radical (new economic paradigms and conceptions of the ‘good life’) experiments in consumption and lifestyles, and the development of new systems of provision.

Transitions research recognizes that current environmental problems represent formidable societal challenges, whose solution requires deep structural changes in key areas of human activity, but that existing systems tend to be very difficult to ‘dislodge’ because they are stabilized by various lock-in processes that lead to path dependent developments and ‘entrapment’. In recent years, research at UEA has been developing tools for the assessment of sustainability transitions, developing theory, and conducting empirical research on ‘grassroots’ innovations (in a range of empirical domains including housing, food, complementary currencies, community energy projects, and transport). The current focus of research is on the role of culture, civil society and social movements in transition processes; we are particularly interested how consumption patterns are intimately linked to broader transition processes.

View our portfolio of projects and current PhD research. We are committed to maximising the impact and engagement of our work in wider society. Our research directly informs our innovative and creative teaching activities within the School of Environmental Sciences.