Gram-Hanssen, Irmelin (2019, March). The role of flexibility in enabling transformational social change: Perspectives from an Indigenous community using Q-methodology. Geoforum, 100, 10-20.

Abstract: What makes some communities more resilient and transformative than others? This paper explores the hypothesis that the flexibility of perspectives is central to enable the kind of changes called for by current and future environmental and socio-economic challenges. The paper reports on findings from a Q-study conducted with the Indigenous community of Igiugig, Alaska, focusing on perceptions of social change. The study reveals three main narratives concerning drivers of social change, focusing on the role of individuals, the importance of cultural values, and community visioning. The findings from the Q study point to the importance of flexibility, understood as the capacity to take different perspectives, in enabling deliberate action in situations where the correct path to take is often contested. This kind of flexibility, grounded in an Indigenous worldview, is seen to contribute to community resilience through supporting cultural cohesion, collective leadership and enacting alternatives in the here and now. Strong community narratives that allow for individual interpretation is seen as important and highlights the interrelatedness between the individual and the collective and the role of collective agency. Drawing on the critiques of the concept of resilience in an Indigenous context, the paper further points to the need for transformational change occurring at multiple scales and extends a call for flexibility to be fostered among researchers and practitioners alike. The lessons from this community have implications for understandings of community resilience and agency in social-ecological systems and the potential for transformations towards sustainability.

Irmelin Gram-Hanssen <irmelin.gram-hanssen> is in the Department of Sociology and Human Geography, Oslo University, Oslo, Norway.