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Sustainability Transitions Research: Transforming Science and Practice for Societal Change

Do you want to know where Sustainability Transitions Research field is at the moment? What are the emerging and future research pathways and themes? This article brings a new view on sustainability transitions’ studies, the research practice that coins transformative science and proposes future pathways that build from new trends and themes on the field. For those who are in the field and those who are enticed by the societal relevance of transitions research across the globe, this is a must read! 
 
The article describes the field of sustainability transitions research, which emerged in the past two decades in the context of a growing scientific and public interest in large-scale societal transformation toward sustainability. The field has by now produced a broad theoretical and empirical basis along with a variety of social transformation strategies and instruments, impacting disciplinary scientific fields as well as (policy) practice. In this article, we try to characterize the field by identifying its main perspectives, approaches and shared concepts, and its relevance to real-world sustainability problems and solutions.
 
We explain the core idea and central notion of transitions research: that disruptive systemic change can be located in so-called regimes, the dominant order in a societal (sub)system.  The notion of a socio-technical regime was introduced combined with the multiphase model of transitions, which identified four phases of predevelopment, take-off, acceleration, and stabilization, through which a transition occurred. This transition perspective understands a dominant configuration or regime in the context of its interaction with changing external (landscape) factors, preferences, and pressures as well as in interaction with emerging novelties, innovations, and alternatives. As the broader societal context changes and new radical alternatives develop and emerge, regimes inevitably will enter a process of increased stress, internal crises, destabilization, and shock-wise systemic reconfiguration.
 
Sustainability Transitions Research: Transforming Science and Practice for Societal Change

 

Where initially experimentation and acceleration were the main foci in transitions research, in recent years increasing attention is given to processes of destabilization, emergence, and institutional change. By building on historical cases as well as reflecting on and analyzing currently evolving transitions, a theoretical basis has been developed that identifies the different patterns and mechanisms of change that drive nonlinear structural change in complex societal systems. The analytical model of transitions below provides a systematic way to reflect on ongoing and past transitions as evolutionary revolutions in complex societal systems.
 
Sustainability Transitions Research: Transforming Science and Practice for Societal Change
 
Furthermore, the article describes how different scientific approaches and methodological positions explore diverse types of transitions and provide the basis for multiple theories and models for governance of sustainability transitions. We distinguish three perspectives in studying transitions: socio-technical, socio-institutional, and socio-ecological.

 

Sustainability Transitions Research: Transforming Science and Practice for Societal Change
 
Although the field as a whole is very heterogeneous, commonalities can be characterized in notions such as path dependencies, regimes, niches, experiments, and governance. These more generic concepts have been adopted within the analytical perspective of transitions, which has led three different types of approaches to dealing with agency in transitions: analytical, evaluative, and experimental.

 

Sustainability Transitions Research: Transforming Science and Practice for Societal Change
Sustainability Transitions Research: Transforming Science and Practice for Societal Change

 

The field  of Sustainability Transitions Research has by now produced a broad theoretical and empirical basis along with a variety of social transformation strategies and instruments, impacting disciplinary scientific fields as well as (policy) practice.  Read the complete article (more information below) for an in-depth characterization of the field, by identification of its main perspectives, approaches and shared concepts, and its relevance to real-world sustainability problems and solutions.

 
Citation

Loorbach, D., Frantzeskaki, N., and Avelino, F.. (2017) Sustainability Transitions Research: Transforming Science and Practice for Societal Change. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 42(1), 599-626
 
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Date
November 2, 2017