Journal Article

Power in Sustainability Transitions: Analysing power and (dis)empowerment in transformative change towards sustainability

The field of transition studies has been critically interrogated for undermining the role of power, which has inspired various endeavours to theorize power and agency in transitions. This paper conceptualizes power and empowerment in the context of sustainability transitions and transition governance.


The first section of the paper introduces transitions studies and discusses its state-of-the-art regarding power. This is followed by a typology of power relations and different types of power (reinforcive, innovative, transformative).  These notions are used to reframe transition concepts, in particular the multi-level perspective, in terms of power dynamics.

The paper proposes a complementary, horizontal understanding of power, represented by the POwer-IN-Transition framework (POINT), which is developed as a conceptual framework to analyse power and (dis)empowerment in transformative social change, integrating transition concepts and multiple power and empowerment theories. Rather than vertical interaction between actors, structures and systems, the focus is on how actors engage with resources, structures and systems in different ways. The paper develops this horizontal understanding of power building on social and political theories of power and empowerment. Some elements of this conceptualization have been developed, empirically tested and presented in previous studies and separate publications.

The paper discusses the critical challenges of (dis)empowerment and unintended power implications of discourses on and policies for ‘sustainability transitions’ and concludes with a synthesis of the arguments and challenges for future research.

Avelino, F. (2017). Power in Sustainability Transitions: Analysing power and (dis)empowerment in transformative change towards sustainability. Environmental Policy and Governance. Published online in Wiley Online Library ( DOI: 10.1002/eet.1777

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September 5, 2017