UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Embodying and performing sustainability O'Shea, Margaret


This dissertation explores the theoretical and methodological implications of including embodiment and performance theory in sustainability theory and practice, and demonstrates the advantages and difficulties of embodied sustainability research in two case studies of communities performing sustainability practices. The potential influence of an embodied approach to participatory governance theory in light of the anticipated sustainability transition is also investigated. The fundamental characteristics of embodiment are determined and a performance typology derived from performance theory is developed to help guide case study analysis and interpretation. The first case study investigates the perceptions, actions, and possible transformations of members of a theatrical group who tour British Columbia by bicycle. The second case study recruits the creative participation of members of a recycling initiative in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in a photographic project designed to elicit their embodied experiences of sustainability within their daily actions. This research is premised on the argument that sustainability can be usefully conceived of as a property that emerges from collaborative practices and dialogue (i.e., procedural sustainability), rather than simply as a set of expert-defined imperatives (i.e., substantive sustainability). Incorporating the embodiment paradigm into research on sustainability suggests that such research should be interactive by way of active and creative participation by citizens. Furthermore, embodiment and sustainability are experienced as deeply socially and culturally embedded phenomena, which should be reflected in sustainability research through a strong integration of ecological, economic, social, and cultural concerns. Performance theory provides a theoretical frame and methodological direction that centres on the socially- and culturally-mediated experiencing body. Findings from the case studies, and application of findings to participatory governance theory, confirm that: framing sustainability as a procedurally emergent property of social practices is appropriate and productive at the community-scale; applying a performance lens to sustainability practices reveals complex performative dimensions of socially-situated embodied experience; and participatory processes for embodied engagement, specifically arts-based methods, have great potential to provide novel opportunities for engagement with governments and policy processes.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported