CFP: Alternative experiments–spaces of learning and innovation at the grassroots

Call for paper, RGS Annual Conference, Exeter, UK (2 – 4 September, 2015).

Alternative experiments: spaces of learning and innovation at the grassroots (sponsored by PERG).

Experiments attract a lot of current interest as tools for change, especially in the broader context of sustainability transitions, climate change responses and urban development. There has been significant work on different experimental efforts, from model projects to living labs, and their role as examples for infrastructural co-creation or as local governance tools (Bulkeley & Castán Broto 2013; Dorstewitz 2014; Evans 2011). This highlights their practical contributions to local problem solving and posits experiments as sites for social learning as well as seedbeds for innovation. The emphasis of these discussions lies on experimental efforts as deliberately designed and strategic interventions, many of which are technology-centred and motivated by dominant or mainstream narratives of development or societal change.

Yet as experiments have come to be seen as open and adaptive approaches to knowledge making within the lived everyday world (Davies 2010), there is a whole range of initiatives that stand alongside these strategic efforts. These may be termed alternative experiments: interventions that explicitly seek to challenge and replace existing economic, social and other configurations through experimental  means. These experiments are often more diffuse and haphazard, based at the grassroots level and emerging organically from existing efforts (Pickerill & Maxey 2009; Seyfang & Smith 2007). While they share a commitment to local problem solving and learning with other efforts, they are distinct in their commitments and approaches. As well as offering locally practised alternatives, they are spaces of learning and innovation with the potential for much wider relevance.

The purpose of this session is to begin a wider conversation about such alternative experiments, exploring their distinct implications and roles within processes of societal and sociotechnical change. We invite a range of theoretical and empirical work that discusses what alternative experiments are, how they emerge and how we may think about them.

Possible topics could include:

–      The spatiality and emplacement of alternative experiments

–      The emergence and development of alternative experiments: How do experiments get made and unmade?

–      Relational, socio-material and networked perspectives on experiments

–      Critically engaged case studies of experiments (examples might include, alternative currencies, food projects, hackerspaces, fab labs, social centres, ecovillages etc).

–      Issues of governance, power and politics in relation to alternative experiments

–      Explorations of processes of learning, ‘scaling up’ and ‘diffusion’.

–      Critical engagements with notions of the ‘alternative’ in relation to experimentation.

–      The relationship between countercultural space / place and experimentation.

Please send abstracts for 15-minute papers (up to a maximum of 250 words) to Noel Longhurst ( and Jana Wendler ( by Monday, 9th February 2015.


Bulkeley, H. & Castán Broto, V., 2013. Government by experiment? Global cities and the governing of climate change. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 38(3), pp.361–375.

Davies, G., 2010. Where do experiments end? Geoforum, 41(5), pp.667–670.

Dorstewitz, P., 2014. Planning and Experimental Knowledge Production: Zeche Zollverein as an Urban Laboratory. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 38(2), pp.431–449.

Evans, J.P., 2011. Resilience, ecology and adaptation in the experimental city. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 36(2), pp.223–237.

Pickerill, J. & Maxey, L., 2009. Geographies of Sustainability : Low Impact Developments and Radical Spaces of Innovation. Geography Compass, 3/4, pp.1515–1539.

Seyfang, G. & Smith, A., 2007. Grassroots innovations for sustainable development: Towards a new research and policy agenda. Environmental Politics, 16(4), pp.584–603.


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