Hyperlocal sustainabilities: theorizing action research for sustainability in the digital age

Bethany B. Cutts, Andrew J. Greenlee, Kaitlyn Hornik, Caitie A. Nigrelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Hyperlocal relationships are internet-enabled interactions in a common locale. They are opening new frontiers for geographically based, community-oriented, and civically engaged action. However, the influences of virtual interactions over procedural aspects of sustainability projects are not fully theorized. To fill this gap, we examine whether anticipating the use of social media re-shapes how the community voice method (CVM) intervenes in deliberative spaces associated with waterway sustainability in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (USA). CVM is a video-based participatory research approach designed to foster inclusive and community-focused planning. Like most visual methods, it originated before the wide availability of interactive web 2.0 technologies. Our working hypothesis is that the intention to engage the public through online fora creates a new group of stakeholders who are poorly understood. As a result of analyzing field notes, audio-visual recordings of participants, and other documents, we find that anticipating the use of social media shapes all aspects of participation, including: awareness of context, group dynamics, interventions, outcomes of concern. Concern for the opinions and perspectives of hyperlocal participants re-shapes recommendations about how to align research projects with community needs and planning deliberation. Social media is an important outlet for the work, but changed the placement of video products in relation to waterway sustainability plans, especially with respect to environmental justice. We conclude by proposing a framework for hyperlocal sustainability research that appropriately emphasizes justice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)315-331
Number of pages17
JournalSustainability Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020


  • Community-based participatory research
  • Digital society
  • Environmental justice
  • Internet
  • Social justice
  • Social media

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Health(social science)
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law

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