UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Community-based sustainability and the construction of difference on Galiano Island, British Columbia Rowson, Juliet Mary


The 'community-based sustainability ideal' is a North American brand of sustainability which envisions place-based communities as the ideal forum for the achievement of sustainability. There are three linchpins to the ideal: place, community, and sustainability. According to the ideal, community is place-based, and is the site in which the goals of ecological integrity, economic well-being and social cohesion can best be advanced, rendering it the ideal locus for sustainability. As such, the three linchpins are seamlessly bound together as a 'common sense' package. I argue, however, that these linchpins are thus-far ill-conceived because they romanticize local social relations, systematically erasing any sense that there may be difference and conflict generated in place-based communities attempting sustainability. My position is that any desirable and attainable vision of community-based sustainability must be grounded in the discursive realities of the present. Given that difference and conflict are unlikely to disappear from place-based communities in the foreseeable future, these issues must therefore be explicitly incorporated in any vision of community-based sustainability. To this end, I deconstruct the representations of place, commumty and sustainability embedded in the 'community-based sustainability ideal' and suggest an alternative, less problematic way in which community-based sustainability can be imagined. My arguments are filtered through, and shaped by, a case study of Galiano Island, British Columbia, which constitutes a place-based community attempting sustainability. The thesis argues that the 'community-based sustainability ideal' should be reworked such that place is de-essentialized, so that it is possible to recognize multiple, conflicting representations of place. Similarly, the assumption that commumty members are united through a shared unity of purpose needs to be challenged so that difference and conflict are recognized as integral aspects of community. Finally, sustainability advocates need to acknowledge that there is not one, but multiple ways in which sustainability can be interpreted in place-based communities. From here, advocates of community-based sustainability are in a position to suggest how differences can be articulated and positions negotiated, such that workable, desirable visions of sustainability can be pursued.

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