The Governance of Socio-Technical Systems
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The Governance of Socio-Technical Systems

Explaining Change

Edited by Susana Borrás and Jakob Edler

Examining the “who” (agents), “how” (policy instruments) and “why” (societal legitimacy) of the governance process, this book presents a conceptual framework about the governance of change in socio-technical systems. Bridging the gap between disciplinary fields, expert contributions provide innovative empirical cases of different modes of governing change. The Governance of Socio-Technical Systems offers a stepping-stone towards building a theory of governance of change and presents a new research agenda on the interaction between science, technology and society.
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Chapter 4: Transitioning sustainability: performing ‘governing by standards’

Allison Loconto and Marc Barbier


Sustainability is a multi-faceted and highly contested topic in many sectors. As a discourse, it simultaneously brings together competing regimes of knowledge around how sustainability should be defined and practiced. The articulation of the present and the anticipated future varies across sectors, meaning that a vast array of phenomena and complex situations need to be considered, studied, and compared. In the industrial agriculture sector, cutting-edge biological, chemical and mechanical technologies maintain a monopoly, although tenuous, on the current agri-food system. However, socio-technical regimes are in flux and the appearance of stability to the outside eye actually consists of significant work to reinforce the dominance of the current knowledge regime and to limit alternatives to niche innovations or novelties. This is particularly the case when landscape pressures introduce new imperatives that all social actors should work towards, such as sustainability (Levin et al., 2012). Temporally, we stand within this transition to sustainability. In this current space the vision of sustainability remains a fluid and contested concept and the knowledge needed to govern both the transition and the future is uncertain (cf. Elzen et al., 2011; Levin et al., 2012; Barbier, 2010). Due to this uncertainty, we witness competing or co-existing socio-technical systems in agriculture. From our vantage point we can observe, in real time, how each group is constructing the knowledge base and socio-technical infrastructure necessary for transitioning to wide-spread adoption of their version of sustainable agriculture.

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