The disruptivity of the others in urban transformations: An interdisciplinary analysis of the co-constitutions of outsiders and disruptions in urban transformation processes


Disruptions are crucial to accelerate sustainability transformations. The emergence, characteristics and impacts of disruptions relate to the role of "outsiders": Individuals or groups, whose norms, values and practices differ considerably from the mainstream. In this, the emergence, networking and strategies of outsiders are as relevant as forms of anticipation and response to their actions by established institutions and stakeholders.

This research project aims at developing a comprehensive understanding of the relationships between outsiders and disruptions as well as their impacts on urban sustainability transformations. It generates new basic knowledge to strengthen the transformative potential of outsiders in line with societal objectives, and prevent their marginalisation, radicalisation or other obstructive effects. The research design combines approaches from psychology, philosophy, transition/transformation studies as well as urban studies, and focuses empirically on a core action domain of sustainable urban and spatial development (mobility).

Research objectives

  • To identify and review existing conceptualisations of agency and “outsiders” (e.g. forerunners, institutional entrepreneurs, transformative leaders, grassroots activists, urban movements) to reflect on the cognitive, institutional, social, spatial and normative aspects of their constitution, and to theorise on the relationships between disruptions and outsiders in urban transformations.
  • To investigate which patterns and logics of discourse, action and interaction characterise the constitution of outsiders within and outside of reference systems and niches. To show how these are socially, spatially and institutionally embedded, and what disruptive effects result from them.
  • To derive approaches for transformative governance and intervention that support the role and interaction of outsiders in order to generate disruptions that foster urban sustainability transitions and/or build transformative resilience in the face of unsustainable disruptions, while preventing detrimental effects (e.g. exclusion, lock-in).

Research questions

  • How to conceptually understand disruptions and outsiders in urban transformations, as well as their relationships, co-constitution and co-evolution?
  • How to evaluate the disruptive and transformative impacts of outsiders?
  • What governance approaches, institutional designs, spatial configurations and intervention forms support/undermine the transformative agency of outsiders, and what design processes are needed to create these?

Research approach

An analytical framework is developed deductively by integrating different research perspectives from philosophy (metacognitive sensibility), psychology (cognitive affective mapping), transition/transformation studies (transformative agency) as well as urban studies (urban movements, place making).
Empirically, a comparative case study of German cities in the domain of mobility is conducted by combining methods of document analysis, several interview designs and focus groups.

The Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development is jointly funded by the federal government and the federal states.

FS Sachsen

This measure is co-financed by tax funds on the basis of the budget approved by the Saxon State Parliament.