Technological Transitions and System Innovations
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Technological Transitions and System Innovations

A Co-Evolutionary and Socio-Technical Analysis

Frank W. Geels

This important book addresses how long term and large scale shifts from one socio-technical system to another come about, using insights from evolutionary economics, sociology of technology and innovation studies. These major changes involve not just technological changes, but also changes in markets, regulation, culture, industrial networks and infrastructure.
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Chapter 3: Conceptual Perspective on System Innovations and Technological Transitions

Frank W. Geels


3.1 INTRODUCTION This chapter develops a conceptual perspective on system innovations and technological transitions. This perspective builds on the insight from complex systems theory, general history and long-wave theory that major changes come about because processes at multiple levels link up and influence one another. Hence, the perspective is multi-level. I shall build upon an existing multi-level perspective on technological change, described in Section 3.2. Because this perspective has some weaknesses for understanding system innovations, I shall make several conceptual additions in Section 3.3, using building blocks from Chapter 2. The improved multilevel perspective is not a formalised model, but an ‘appreciative theory’ (Nelson and Winter, 1982); it addresses the first research question. The research question about patterns is addressed in Section 3.4. Three patterns will be suggested: (a) fit–stretch pattern in the co-evolution of form and function, (b) co-evolution of technologies and (c) diffusion as a trajectory of niche accumulation. The research question about mechanisms is not addressed in this chapter. It will be taken up in Chapter 7, building upon findings from the case studies. 3.2 THE MULTI-LEVEL PERSPECTIVE The multi-level perspective (MLP) was originally developed to understand regime shifts (Kemp, 1994; Schot et al., 1994; Kemp et al., 1998; Rip and Kemp, 1998;Van den Ende and Kemp, 1999; Rip, 2000; Kemp et al., 2001). To that end, three levels were distinguished: technological niches, technological regimes and socio-technical landscape. The conceptualisation of dynamics at these levels aims to combine insights from evolutionary economics, innovation...

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