Key Theme—

Making and Breaking Connections

Practices may be defined as ‘meaningful configurations of the world in which actions take place intelligibly’ (Rouse, 1996: 135). Practices, therefore, are made up of many elements which can be grouped together as images or meanings, materials, and skills or competences (Shove and Pantzar, 2005). We can take the example of people attempting to be comfortable in the heat of summer. In this example, the image may be of coolness, meaning the ability to sleep at night and wellbeing. Materials include air conditioners, fans, light clothing, a home with shade, windows, eaves, trees and probably a mortgage or owning one’s home. Skills/competences include questions of can I afford to use the air conditioner or fans? Do I have appropriate clothing, shade, and so on? Image, materials and skills are all connected in accessing thermal comfort.

Connections can be vertical and/or horizontal. Vertically, we can distinguish three ‘levels’ (Geels, 2011):

  • niches – eg renewable energy technology in the home, such as the Stucco co-operative student housing block in Sydney (Hoh, 2016; Sturmberg, 2017);
  • socio-technical regimes – established practices and rules which stabilise existing systems, eg fossil fuel-based energy systems, grid-based energy systems, the practice of arriving home and turning on the air conditioner;
  • the broader socio-technical landscape – eg the electricity grid, laws and regulations, international standards of thermal comfort, capitalist economics.

Horizontal connections include those between local interest groups, for instance, or across regimes.

Source: Hargreaves et al, 2013: 409

The diagram shows the points of connection between hypothetical regimes (horizontal) and practices (vertical). It is these points of connection which are important, as is a having a multiscalar perspective which considers links between niches, regimes and landscapes.

If we look at innovative practices (by local government authorities, non-government organisations and the private sector) and how they connect with other practices, we can begin to identify the critical points of connection and the potential footholds or leverage points for change.

We cannot overemphasise the importance of making new connections for disseminating ideas and practices and also of breaking old connections in terms of disrupting unsustainable, outdated ways of thinking and acting. Making and breaking connections represent provocative challenges to the status quo. They can be creative disruptors, such as reading the landscape of legislation in new ways (eg Stucco housing). They can bring missing actors into conversations (eg Griff Morris, WA, getting onto the Housing Industry Association environmental committee to ‘try to change them from the inside’). All work together differently – from regional alliances of local government authorities to departments within an authority, such as the City of Fremantle, WA, or Marrickville in the new Inner West Council, NSW.


Elwood Floods Action Group (EFLAG)

In a map from 1886, much of Elwood was designated as swamp, an inundated area where water from the Elster Creek drained before entering Port Phillip Bay. Although efforts at reclamation began in 1859, the area was only fully developed in the 1920’s, with canals constructed and reconstructed across the following decades to facilitate drainage.

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Griff Morris –
Solar Dwellings:
A Creative Disruptor

Since the late 1970s Griff Morris has been a dedicated champion in the research and design of sustainable, passive solar homes in Victoria and subsequently in Western Australia. He leads Solar Dwellings which disrupts the assumption throughout the building industry that passive solar designs are unaffordable for the consumer, and unprofitable for the builder.

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Speed Date a Sustainability Expert

In an effort to limit both the vulnerability of their Local Government Area (LGA) and its contribution to climate change, the former Marrickville Council, (since amalgamated into the new Inner West Council in New South Wales [NSW]), has forged stronger connections with State and Federal governments, private businesses and their community in an attempt to help individuals and stakeholders operate more sustainably.

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RedWaste: Redland City Council Business Unit

As a coastal community, the Local Government Area (LGA) of Redland is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Awareness of this led has led the council to involve itself since about 1998 in wider government schemes to address climate change.

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Geels F. (2011) ‘The multi-level perspective on sustainability transitions: responses to eight criticisms’, Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, 1: 24-40.

Hargreaves T., Longhurst N. and Seyfang G. (2013) ‘Up, down, round and round: connecting regimes and practices in innovation for sustainability’, Environment and Planning A, 45: 402-420.

Hoh A. (2016) ‘Stucco students install one of Australia’s first shared solar and battery systems for apartment block’, ABC Radio Sydney, 08/12/2016.

Rouse J. (1996) Engaging Science: how to understand its practices philosophically, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY.

Shove E. and Pantzar M. (2005) ‘Consumers, producers and practices’, Journal of Consumer Culture, 5: 43-64.

Sturmberg B. (2017) ‘Get in on the ground floor: how apartments can join the solar boom’, The Conversation, 21/06/2017.