Anatomy of a 21st-century sustainability project: The untold stories

Dymitrow, M. and Ingelhag, K. (eds.) (2019). Anatomy of a 21st-century sustainability project: The untold stories. Gothenburg: Mistra Urban Futures, Chalmers University of Technology.

Publication type
Research Forum Urban Rural Gothenburg
Mirek Dymitrow (editor) Karin Ingelhag (editor)
Published year



What does a sustainability project look like in the 21st century? Not the glossy version, but the
naked truth? Tired of manicured, over-theorised accounts of the ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds’ of
sustainability transitions, we got to the bottom of things; actually, to the very bottom of the
project hierarchy: the individual. Our point of departure is that projects are nothing but
temporarily interconnected people. This means that if we don’t know what people do and what
they think about their work, we will never be able to create a deeper understanding of the
project, its rationale and future impact. Making use of the autoethnographic method, this book
provides critical insights into what it’s like being part of a 21st-century project. Building on
unfiltered first-hand contributions from 73 authors representing the five organs of a project’s
anatomy – the brain (theoreticians), the skeleton (leaders), the limbs (strategists), the heart
(local stakeholders) and the lungs (researchers) – the book covers all the important aspects of
contemporary project-making: (1) projectification as a societal phenomenon; (2) sustainability
as the main project buzzword; (3) transdisciplinarity as a hot working method; (4) economy as
the invisible project propeller; (5) space as the contextual project qualifier; (6) gender and
integration as the obstinate orphans of project-making; (7) trends as the villains of thoughtless
project mimicry; (8) politics as the “necessary evil” of projects; and (9) knowledge production
as the cornerstone of all project work. The book ends with an extensive critical analysis of what
makes a project tick and how to avoid project failure. We infer that talking about project
outcomes and impacts is just that… talking. What makes a difference is what can be done to
the project in itself. Three important virtues – the ABC of project-making – emanate from this
book’s 40 chapters: building good relationships (Affinity), having the guts to make a change
(Bravery), and showing willingness to learn (Curiosity). These are the basis for the successful
execution of future sustainability projects, where complexity, unpredictability and desperation
will become a staple force to recon with. The original contribution of this book is to shed light
on the silent triumphs and hidden pathologies of everyday project-making in an effort to elevate
individual knowledge to a level of authority for solving the wicked – yet project-infused –
problems of our time.

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