Skip to main content
European Commission logo print header

Societal transformation to sustainability through the unmaking of capitalism? A comparative study of radical grassroots innovations in Europe

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - UNMAKING (Societal transformation to sustainability through the unmaking of capitalism? A comparative study of radical grassroots innovations in Europe)

Reporting period: 2022-02-01 to 2023-07-31

Modern capitalist societies engage destructively with the natural environment. Societal transformation to sustainability is urged, but it implies a degree of disruption of modern, capitalist ways of being and doing. Radical grassroots innovations – those that posit a profound cultural, economic, and political transformation of dominant institutions and practices - hold the potential to lead such transformation, but may be constrained by their marginal, local, small-scale character.
This programme aims to understand to what extent, under what conditions, and through what processes radical grassroots innovations unmake modern, capitalist institutions and practices. This research will compare Italian and German radical grassroots innovations in agriculture to: (1) identify and categorize mechanisms of unmaking that are involved in radical grassroots innovations; (2) explain whether and how unmaking creates space for alternatives from the individual to the social-ecological level; (3) understand how mechanisms of unmaking at different levels interplay; (4) explain why unmaking may result in different outcomes in different context; (5) develop a theory of unmaking in societal transformation to sustainability. This research is ground breaking as it (1) approaches societal transformation from the perspective of unmaking of dominant institutions, rather than of the introduction of innovations, (2) mobilizes theories that have so far not been considered, and innovatively integrates theories and levels of analysis, (3) originally employs mixed methods that capture trajectories of change, and enable to generalize causal mechanisms in complex social-ecological systems. This programme will push the boundaries of our understanding of transformation to sustainability. It will generate scientific knowledge that will be relevant across the social sciences, offer a theoretical lens –unmaking-, and test a process-tracing methodological approach to stimulate interdisciplinary research.
A research assistant and three PhD students were hired. They have had a successful start of their research sub-projects, resulting in publications submitted or already published in highly ranked peer-review journals, and in presentations at international conferences. The PhD students have also started their field work, which is ongoing at the time of reporting.
A team of researchers working on the disruption of capitalism in transformation to sustainability has been formed at Utrecht University.
Various peer-reviewed journal articles were published, and the research has been presented at national and international academic audiences in invited talks, keynote talks, and presentations at conferences. The team also engaged in public outreach and dissemination through non-technical written and multimedia outputs, and workshops.
The research team was actively involved in the launch and organization of 2 Degrowth Symposia at Utrecht University (2019 and 2020), and of the 8th International Degrowth Conference (2021).
The project has a website ( and a ResearchGate page.
It is relatively early to present consolidated findings. However, the conceptual work done and published to date, has set the ground for a novel understanding of transformation to sustainability which attends to interrelated processes of construction (making) of postcapitalist relations and the deconstruction (unmaking) of postcapitalist ones. Ongoing empirical work will examine such processes in concrete case studies, while contributing to further conceptual development.