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Boundless Roots Best Reads, May 2020

Below we share with you some of the articles, reports and research papers the Boundless Roots community and networks have been picking up in the world during the last few weeks. They are still heavily focused on the world’s response to Coronavirus and illustrate the diverse perspectives and approaches to shifting behaviour and ways of living.

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

Our 3 top reads

Covid-19, Changing Social Practices and the Transition to Sustainable Consumption and Production (long read)

The paper from Sustainable Consumption Institute seeks to address two questions: I. What social practices have changed as a result of Covid-19, and what is the likelihood that such practices, and their alleged beneficial sustainability impacts, are retained after the immediate crisis subsides? II. What conditions need to be met to make such retained practices part of an accelerated transition to more just and ecologically sustainable systems of provision?

Their research confirms a basic assumption of theories of practice is that after a period of disruption people will mostly return to their old routines and habits, seeking to perform practices in much the same ways as before. Such bouncing back occurs, unless:

  • They have learned new practices to which they have become positively attached in the interim;
  • The infrastructure and facilities supporting earlier practices are changed such that old habits are no longer possible or are less congenial. Or, new equipment re-directs attention towards new practices;
  • People lack the personal resources, health or finance to return to previous ways of acting;
  • New regulations and new prohibitions eliminate some previous practices and enhance or promote others/new ones;
  • A changed cultural context alters how people value or conduct activities;
  • Adjustments in other, adjacent and more distant, practices have knock-on effects.

A Larger Us (long read)

This paper from Collective Psychology Project explores how tribalism and them-and-us thinking is on the rise all over the world, presenting a clear danger not only to the health of our democracies, but also to our ability to respond to the defining challenges of our moment in history, above all climate change and mass extinction. It argues that while conventional explanations for polarisation usually look at political, economic, or cultural drivers, what’s often missed is the underlying psychological dynamics at play, and especially our increasing levels of anxiety and the contagious nature of threat perception in politics.

It argues that the inner and outer crises we face are closely linked. We used to think depression and anxiety were just about brain chemistry; now, we’re realising that in many ways they’re a response to how we live.

It argues there are three key psychological transitions we need to make.

  • From fight-or-flight to self-awareness.
  • From powerlessness to agency
  • From disconnection to belonging

All three transitions, the paper argues, are relevant at both individual and collective level, both for psychological wellbeing and for the health of our democracies and our ability to shape a future that we actually want. It points to the vacuum that the retreat of religion has left behind, especially in the areas of self-awareness, agency and belonging.

It sets out ideas for how to build our collective psychology capacities up:

  • Building community and telling the story — among people working at the cusp of inner and outer change who want to be part of an emerging ecosystem of ideas, innovation, and support
  • Mapping the ground — map out what’s already happening on each of the three key transitions towards self-awareness, agency, and belonging.
  • Making small bets — create platforms to support rapid cycles of experimentation, failure, and learning.

Screen New Deal (long read)

Naomi Klein’s analysis of how new post-covid partnerships are forming between the state and big tech firms are promising “a future in which our homes are never again exclusively personal spaces, but are also, via high-speed digital connectivity, our schools, our doctor’s offices, our gyms, and, if determined by the state, our jails….It’s a future that claims to be run on “artificial intelligence”, but is actually held together by tens of millions of anonymous workers tucked away in warehouses, data centres, content-moderation mills, electronic sweatshops, lithium mines, industrial farms, meat-processing plants and prisons, where they are left unprotected from disease and hyper-exploitation. It’s a future in which our every move, our every word, our every relationship is trackable, traceable and data-mineable by unprecedented collaborations between government and tech giants.”

It explores how Eric Schmidt, Former Google CEO and Chair of the US Defense Innovation Board, is seeking large amounts of public funding to go into public-private partnerships that invest in tech solutions to public services, using the AI arms race with China as justification. Klein calls this ‘a ferocious lobbying campaign for remote learning, telehealth, 5G and driverless vehicles — their Screen New Deal’.

Klein poses the question: will that technology [which is a key part of how we must protect public health] be subject to the disciplines of democracy and public oversight, or will it be rolled out in a state-of-exception frenzy, without asking critical questions that will shape our lives for decades to come?

Taking examples of education and healthcare, Klein speaks to the real and hard choices between investing in people and technology. She ends by arguing that ‘tech provides us with powerful tools, but not every solution is technological. And the trouble with outsourcing key decisions about how to “reimagine” our states and cities to men such as Bill Gates and Schmidt is that they have spent their lives demonstrating the belief that there is no problem that technology cannot fix.’

What implications might this no-touch future scenario have on our ways of living and social norms?

Further reading

If you’d like to dive a bit deeper, here are more articles we enjoyed reading this month. They are spanning topics like possible future scenarios, power and privilege, behaviour change, deep mindset shift:

Show me the data!

  • In March, in the early days of lockdown in many countries, Consumers International surveyed our members on the issues most important to the consumers in their nations and there were 3 resounding issues: the rise of fake news, access to goods and services for consumers, the price of goods
  • Imperial College London have published a paper that proposes a 2-pathway model of pro-environmental behaviours (PEB) that integrates a relational pathway for environmental motivation. Based on insights from neurobiology and psychology, this paper advances current PEB theories and lays the groundwork for a new category of environmental interventions: experiential strategies. Thus, the 2-pathway model provides important theoretical insights into the link between mindfulness and sustainable lifestyles, as well as the interface between environmental behaviours and well-being. By recognising and investing in the relational capacities of individuals, we might be able to promote a society that prioritises self-actualisation over self-interest.
  • Data in the US shows that one of the strongest predictors of social distancing behavior is attitudes toward climate change
  • New research from EY on how COVID is changing consumer behaviours. They’ve identified 4 segments of consumer behaviour, and created a number of future scenarios, 2 of which are Society First and Waste Nothing.

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