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Public identification with sustainable development : Investigating cultural barriers to participation.

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

  • Phil Macnaghten
  • Michael Jacobs
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1997
<mark>Journal</mark>Global Environmental Change
Issue number1
Number of pages20
Pages (from-to)5-24
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


It is increasingly recognized that the success of sustainable development initiatives depends on widespread public identification and support. Indeed, public participation has become a core component of the official discourse of sustainable development, particularly at local level. However to date there has been little research examining the ‘cultural’ factors governing the potential public uptake of sustainability. This paper reports on a study using focus groups drawn from different sections of the Lancashire public which sought to cast light on public understanding of and identification with sustainable development. Considerable public support was found for the idea that current ways of life are generating problems for the future and that economic activity would have to be held within environmental limits. However there was very little support for the idea that sustainabillty would be achieved through government and business initiatives. Government in particular was deeply mistrusted as part of the ‘system’ which was generating environmental and social problems. The paper argues that this mistrust in government and the lack of a sense of individual agency has serious implications for the political salience of sustainable development. Initiatives to generate public participation, particularly by providing information through sustalnability indicators, are unlikely to succeed unless this is addressed.