Nathan Oxley

Nathan Oxley

Communications and Impact Manager

Nathan contributes to the impact, communications and engagement work of the STEPS Centre. He is also a web editor for the Future Agricultures Consortium. He has worked for a specialist communications agency on sustainable development, and as a web editor for a national charity in the UK.

  • Ebola initiatives shortlisted for ESRC Impact Prize

    Published on 20 May 2016

    The Ebola Response Anthropology Platform (ERAP) and the related Ebola: lessons for development initiatives have been shortlisted for the prestigious Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Outstanding International Impact Prize. The team comprised leading anthropologists from the Institute of Development Studies and its partners, led by IDS director and former STEPS director Melissa Leach.


    The initiative built on an extensive history of research, including contributions from ESRC-funded STEPS Centre work on how social and natural scientists could work together to prepare and respond to zoonoses and infectious diseases in developing countries.


  • Call for papers: Transformations 2017

    Published on 11 May 2016

    A call for papers has been issued for the Transformations 2017 conference in Dundee, UK.

    Transformations 2017 is the third in a biennial series of international interdisciplinary conferences that focuses on transformations towards sustainability: addressing contemporary challenges and creating conditions for enhancing people’s wellbeing, today and in the future, while strengthening the Earth’s support system.


  • Seeking sustainable transformations around the world

    Published on 3 May 2016


    The new ‘Pathways’ Network, which explores transformations to sustainability in 6 cases around the world, had its opening workshop in Buenos Aires on 24-27 April 2016.

    At the workshop, participants from Sweden, South Africa, and ‘hubs’ in Kenya, the UK, Argentina, USA/Mexico, India and China discussed research questions and how best to share learning.


  • Earth Day: are we astronauts or toads?

    Published on 22 April 2016


    It’s 50 years since the first image of the Earth from space was beamed back home from Lunar Orbiter 1. It’s hard for us now to imagine, or remember, what it meant back then. For the first time, humans could see a real image of their home as a whole. The picture, and others that followed, invigorated the environmental movement, and powerfully illustrated debates about our planet’s connectedness, its uniqueness and its vulnerability.

    It was also a big moment for how human beings thought of themselves. Now, from an astronaut’s point of view, you could hold the world in the palm of your hand. Could this help us to reflect on our power and responsibility? What could we do to care for it better?

    50 years on, we still struggle with these questions. We know that the Earth’s physical systems are under threat. Some of our lifestyles place heavy demands on resources, damaging the systems that sustain us. People suffer – often unfairly – from the consequences of over-consumption by others.

    ‘Limits to Growth’ returns

    Six years after that first picture of Earth from space, in 1972, the Limits to Growth report tried to model how growing populations and industrialisation might take their toll on resources and the Earth’s systems. They tried to show how changing some of the growth trends could lead to more sustainable patterns of change.  Limits to Growth had a mixed reception, and some groups offered detailed critiques and alternatives – addressing what they saw as a lack of attention to the ideologies, power, politics and institutions that shape development.

    This year, Limits to Growth is back, if it ever really went away, with the launch of a new All-Party Parliamentary Group in the UK and a new report by Tim Jackson and Robin Webster, launched yesterday. The report suggests that many of the projections in the 1972 report have turned into reality.

    It also links to other big ideas about how to analyse the world’s systems and respond to ecological crises. A section on ‘planetary boundaries’ suggests that the world’s biophysical systems are much more stressed than envisaged in 1972. The report also questions whether ‘decoupling’ economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions can work, and offers a ‘steady state economy’ and ‘degrowth’ as promising alternatives.

    Whatever you make of this analysis and proposed solutions, it is undeniable that Limits to Growth continues to influence thinking about consumption and the environment.

    Politics and the toad’s eye view

    But in some ways, the most challenging bit comes at the end – what do we do about this? With the creation of an All Party Parliamentary Group, the aim is to “open out political space both about limits and about the possibilities for change”. The report also calls for “developing and operationalising” “visions for prosperity”.

    The success or failure of this kind of political space rests on how this “developing and operationalising” is done, with whom, and what questions are asked. These should include being able to question how ideas of ‘limits’ and ‘scarcity’ are used, what are the consequences of framing debates around these ideas, and what alternative framings there are.

    toadv2As well as the astronaut’s eye view, we should look at the toad’s eye view – the diversity of settings, cultures and ways of seeing at ground level. So are we more comfortable as astronauts, or toads?

    To tackle the scandals of poverty and inequality, in ways that take account of the environment, we need to include the voices of the poor and most vulnerable, include their understanding of the problems, and how things might change. We need to be aware of our power and powerlessness. We may be able to change the planet’s systems irreversibly, but we cannot bend social and economic systems to our will, even if we wanted to. Our understanding of green transformations is much richer than that.

    In the world’s least developed countries (LDCs) there are real opportunities to change things like energy and food systems in ways that don’t follow the mistakes of the past. To do this in a just and democractic way, political spaces must be created – not just in the West, but in countries, cities and rural areas where new ideas and innovation can happen.

    A political space for climate and the SDGs?

    Creating a productive political space is also the big challenge for the Sustainable Development Goals, also launched this year. And today (Earth Day), the climate agreement produced from COP21 in Paris is due to be signed by more countries than ever. If they are to be successful they need to be more than a series of targets and governmental programmes.

    If given the chance, the SDGs and COP21 can indeed provide a space for political debate about visions and pathways for change. But this debate needs to be truly open. It means all of us working for more sustainable futures should be aware of what alliances can be built, and what connections can be made, across continents, different forms of expertise, and social divides.

    Image: NASA, Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project, Public Domain, Wikimedia commons

  • New fellowship scheme for young African scholars launched

    Published on 14 April 2016

    Today the Mastercard Foundation and the Institute of Development Studies have launched the Matasa Fellows Network. Jim Sumberg (STEPS Centre member), Seife Ayele and Samir Khan (Mastercard Foundation) have announced the launch and are welcoming applications to join the network.

    Read the article: Putting young African researchers at the heart of change

    Applications from young African scholars who are interested in the challenge of young people and employment in Africa are being accepted until 16 May.

  • Discussing low carbon urban mobility in China

    Published on 5 April 2016

    On Sunday 13th March, the ‘Low Carbon Innovation in China: Prospects, Politics and Practice’ project held the closing workshop of its research package on urban e-mobilities at the Shenzhen Graduate School of Tsinghua University.


    The event involved over 50 delegates including senior government officials, automotive companies, mobility entrepreneurs, leading academics, NGOs and students to discuss possible futures of urban mobility in China. The project team (all in attendance) were Dr Li Ping (Tsinghua), and Dr Dennis Zuev, Dr David Tyfield and Professor John Urry (Centre for Mobilities Research, Lancaster University).

    In the light of the sad and shocking news about the sudden death of Prof Urry, we will report this event in more detail at a later date.


  • Andy Stirling on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Moral Maze’: Is Science Morally Neutral?

    Published on 10 March 2016

    STEPS co-director Andy Stirling was one of the ‘witnesses’ in an interesting debate on the Moral Maze last night, discussing ethics and democracy in science.

    (Update, 14 March 2016: Andy has written a post for the Guardian’s ‘Political Science’ blog reflecting on biases around science & technology discussions in the UK.)

    Alongside its many benefits, science can bring unforeseen consequences and be used for ill. One response to this might be to apply a system of ethical standards and regulatory principles for all science, as the Science Council appear to be proposing. Others might see this as an overbearing response, limiting scientists by forcing them to predict the outcomes of their work.

    But there are other ways and opportunities to deliberate about ethics in science.


  • Contested Agronomy: Imagining different futures for food and farmers

    Published on 7 March 2016

    The question of how to improve farming to feed and sustain people in developing countries is as important as ever, and there are no easy solutions. One route to finding answers is through the science of agronomy – testing and evaluating how crops and farming techniques perform under different conditions. But, as with any science, there are battles and debates over what works, and even which problems agronomy should be trying to solve.

    Whose agronomy counts? Is agronomy trying to solve the wrong problems? How can agronomy and the social sciences work together better to understand what happens to the science when it comes into contact with real farmers in the field? These were some of the key questions asked at the Contested Agronomy conference, which took place on 23-25 February at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS).

    John Thompson, from IDS, welcomes participants to the workshop.

    The event brought together over 80 participants from 18 countries to examine the politics of knowledge within the field of development-oriented agronomy (read more about the background & themes of the conference). (more…)

  • Contested Agronomy 2016: Whose agronomy counts?

    Published on 21 February 2016

    contested agronomy banner

    Contested Agronomy 2016 is a conference about the battlefields in agricultural research, past and present.

    Date and venue

    23 – 25 February 2016
    Institute of Development Studies
    University of Sussex, UK

    For more information, see the dedicated conference website. (more…)

  • Video: Dominic Glover on agricultural biotech and smallholder farmers

    Published on 17 February 2016

    STEPS member Dominic Glover spoke yesterday at the FAO’s International Symposium on “The Role of Agricultural Biotechnologies in Sustainable Food Systems and Nutrition”.

    Dominic’s presentation focused on the need to ensure that agricultural biotechnology policies benefit smallholders. You can watch his presentation on the FAO website (skip to 2 hours and 7 minutes in).