Social science has known age-old debates between ‘is-versus-ought’ debates, between those that call for ‘describing’ and ‘explaining’ how things ‘are’ and those that emphasize ‘prescribing’ or ‘predicting’ how things ‘ought to be’. Transition management – and transition studies more generally – combines ‘is’ and ‘ought’ approaches to research, while at the same time elaborating on these approaches by adding specific attention for research on what ‘can be’.
This paper reviews criticisms of sustainability transition studies and transition management, with a focus on underlying epistemological issues. While these criticisms have yielded theoretical progress, underlying epistemological issues remain. Contrasting the TM approach to complexity with other more deconstructive views on complexity, it becomes clear that some criticisms on TM are inherently based on a deconstructive questioning of whether complex systems can be influenced into a desired direction.
The authors build on those critiques to argue that TM needs to clarify how (1) TM itself harbours deconstructive power (hitherto insufficiently specified), while (2) at the same time having an explicit ambition to ‘go beyond’ deconstruction. To that end, this paper proposes a ‘reconstructive approach’ as an epistemological grounding for transition studies. This reconstructive approach is elaborated on three grounds: (1) a research focus beyond ‘is’ versus ‘ought’ towards ‘can be’, (2) interpretative research and reflexivity, and (3) a ‘phronetic’ understanding of sustainability.
The authors argue that it crucial to explore the whole spectrum of what was, what is, what seems to be, what people want, and what we think that will be or ought to be. For that both deconstruction and reconstruction, both qualitative and quantitative research, both positivistic and post-positivistic paradigms are needed.
Avelino, F. and Grin, J. (2017)
Beyond Deconstruction. A Reconstructive Perspective on Sustainability Transition Governance.
Read the complete paper here.
March 20, 2017