Research interview: Darin Wahl is excited about the idea of cultural narratives in connection with sustainability
What do you do at LUCSUS?
My PhD is part of a project called GLOCULL - exploring innovation experiments in Urban Living Labs in the Food, Water, and Energy nexus. LUCSUS is one of seven partner organisations in cities around the world.
What sustainability challenge do you find most interesting?
I am very interested and excited about the idea of cultural narratives in connection with sustainability. Cultural narratives are the stories that people have near the core of their identities, and it helps give shape to foundational elements, such as belonging and community, that guide individual and group behaviors. I am convinced that a new global sustainability narrative is essential to re-configure humanity’s relationship with the planet. This seems to be already happening in many ways and in many places. My worry is what that narrative will be if it is motivated by resource conflict, disaster events, and volatile economies.
How does your research contribute to address these issues?
My research interests spiral around ideas of change in core beliefs, and in embedded behavior patterns and practices. I am drawn to those edge spaces, places of interaction and exchange, where disturbances force reconfiguring, rethinking, new connections, and new relationships. Very ethereal stuff. But, for example, in my MSc thesis, where I looked at community and governance responses post-flood-disaster. The river communities discussed the mismatch between the towns’ past relationship with the river, the laws and regulations around river use and development, the meaning the river holds for residents today, and the meaning the river has and will have for the region’s children. It was very exciting to witness these discussions and see how the communities tried to change once they realised that they had both the agency and responsibility to close those gaps.
What have you done before you came here?
I am from the USA and have a previous career as a classroom teacher, mostly high school and mostly in east coast cities in the USA. I taught Social Studies and Math, as well as ESL in Bolivia and Tibet. I switched to sustainability in 2012 when I began a MSc program at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, where my work focused on capacity, agency and place in community scale post-disaster (flooding) resilience transformations. Afterwards, I worked in Thailand on disaster risk reduction and sustainable food systems. I then worked in the USA on urban resilience to extreme weather, specifically how city planners and practitioners were adapting (or not) to novel extreme weather events and patterns.
What’s best with working at LUCSUS and/or in academia?
I think the most exciting thing about being where I am now is the ability to really dig deep into a project. As a PhD researcher, I have the time and support to explore my own interests through my project. Also, it is a very interesting time to be in the sustainability sciences. There is so much energy and urgency in the field and I’m liking being right in the mix.