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System Innovation and the Transition to Sustainability

Theory, Evidence and Policy

Edited by Boelie Elzen, Frank W. Geels and Ken Green

This book considers two main questions: how do system innovations or transitions come about and how can they be influenced by different actors, in particular by governments. The authors identify the theories which can be used to conceptualise the dynamics of system innovations and discuss the weaknesses in these theories. They also look at the lessons which can be learned from historical examples of transitions, and highlight the instruments and policy tools which can be used to stimulate future system innovations towards sustainability. The expert contributors address these questions using insights from a variety of different disciplines including innovation studies, evolutionary economics, the sociology of technology, environmental analysis and governance studies. The book concludes with an extensive summary of the results and practical suggestions for future research.
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Chapter 3: Socio-technological Regimes and Transition Contexts

Frans Berkhout, Adrian Smith and Andy Stirling


Frans Berkhout, Adrian Smith and Andy Stirling INTRODUCTION This chapter is concerned with processes of change and transformation in socio-technical regimes – patterns of artefacts, institutions, rules and norms assembled and maintained to perform economic and social activities. The discussion addresses recent theory in understanding the regime transformation process. We argue that these approaches place too much emphasis on the role of technological ‘niches’ as the principal locus for regime change. Instead, we argue that there is a range of different ‘transition contexts’ in which regime change can take place. Niches are protected ‘experimental settings’ (Rip and Kemp, 1998) where norms and practices are developed which depart from those of an incumbent technological regime. According to niche-based understandings, regime changes begin when practices and norms developed in the niche become adopted more widely. Their influence grows and gathers momentum, until eventually the wider technological regime becomes completely transformed by the configurations originally nurtured within the niche. This is an elegant and plausible model, supported by a rich body of historical empirical evidence. However, there is a danger that attention to this particular mechanism may have inhibited complementary and more multidimensional understandings of regime change. In this chapter, we pose the question as to whether there may be a greater plurality of possible transformation pathways. We discuss the possibility of a number of specific alternative contexts and drivers for regime change, with significant implications for both research and policy analysis. This chapter has two objectives: to develop...

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