Sustainability transitions beyond capitalism: disruption and creation in the Colombian peasant movement Territorio Campesino Agroalimentario

O. Coretcaia, G. Feola

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractAcademic


A double challenge of environmental degradation and widening social inequality opens possibilities for the Second Deep Transition, a major transformation of the basic features of industrial modernity such as the imperative of endless economic growth, the dominance of market mechanisms across multiple areas of social life, and the unchallenged belief in technical fixes for all societal problems (Kanger & Schot, 2019). A growing number of scholars refer to the same features as being structural to capitalism and representing key obstacles to meeting global sustainability targets (Brand, 2016; Hickel, 2019; Järvensivu et al., 2018; Koch, 2012; Newell, 2011; Wilhite, 2016). Sustainability transition scholars have recently partaken in the debate on the relation between capitalism and sustainability transitions (Feola, 2019a; Newell, 2019; Vandeventer et al., 2019). This scholarship has laid the foundations for examining practices fundamentally challenging the current capitalist system and their potential for fostering deep sustainability transitions. Considering the hegemonic nature of capitalism, Feola (2019b) and others (e.g. Wilhite, 2016) have argued that actors in sustainability transitions first need to deliberately ‘unmake’ elements of capitalism to ‘make space’ for new ways of thinking, doing and organizing to emerge and consolidate. The interplay between deliberate disruptions and the emergence of alternatives is implied in all three major conceptual frameworks employed to study transformations to sustainability - socio-technical, socio-ecological and socio-economic (EEA, 2018). However, theorizations and empirical observations of disruptions (also discussed in the frame of regime destabilization) in the sustainability transition scholarship has been limited to transitions within capitalist socio-technical regimes. To date, sustainability transitions beyond capitalism, and the interplay of disruption and emergence in such transitions, have been poorly theorized. In this article, we address this gap by asking: what is the interplay between the processes of deliberate disruption of the capitalist system and the creation of alternatives? We use the case of Territorio Campesino Agroalimentario, a peasant alter-territorial movement in Colombia, to answer this question. The case is original in terms of geographical position (rural area, Global South), actors (grassroots peasant movement) and scope of transformation (socio-ecological-technical system). Data collection took place from February to April 2019, and consisted of desk research and key informant interviews in Colombia. We find that peasants disrupt un-dignifying elements of capitalist modernity (e.g. mass-production extractive technologies, marginalizing and exploitative economic relations, repressing worldview), while at the same time also disrupting un-dignifying peasant informal institutions (e.g. gender relations). Transformation occurs through redesigning technologies based on traditional knowledge and peasant values, ‘cultural work’, social learning, de facto actions, community building, and political protest. Disruption of capitalism in this case was often preconditional for the subsequent emergence of alternative relations and institutions. However, making and unmaking processes intersected throughout the transformation. This paper contributes to theorizations of ‘Civil Society, Culture, and Social Movements in Transitions’ and to the emerging debate on the role of disruptions in sustainability transitions beyond capitalism. More specifically, this paper responds to calls for widening theoretical perspectives on sustainability transitions, and for research on “how the ‘stretch and transform’ aspirations of niche actors become connected with broader goals of societal transformation and ‘deep transitions’” (STRN, 2019, p. 20).
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2020
EventThe 11th International Sustainability Transition conference (IST) - Online event
Duration: 18 Aug 202021 Aug 2020


ConferenceThe 11th International Sustainability Transition conference (IST)


  • Deep transition
  • Capitalism
  • Sustainability transitions in the Global South


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