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 6: The discontinuation of socio-technical systems as a governance problem

Peter Stegmaier, Stefan Kuhlmann and Vincent R. Visser


Abandonment of socio-technical systems occurs more often than one would expect. Companies cancel the development, production or support/service of devices, technologies and even established systems. For example, in 2011, Siemens exited from building nuclear power plants; and even a state agency like NASA has a long track of stopping systems before or after start-up. Yet, we know little about how socio-technical systems cease to exist and what it means to discontinue incumbent socio-technical systems actively. As purposeful transitional change is hard to achieve (Markard et al., 2012), how difficult is it then to abandon existing systems purposefully? Bringing a system to an end might be taken for granted as just a side aspect of change – if one is interested in the entire transition trajectory including the fading out of old and the rise of new systems or their parts. Purposeful discontinuation could none the less turn out to be an essential element of creating a basis for change in general and for implementing it in particular. A better understanding of the conditions, forms, roles, effects and limits of the governance of abandoning longstanding socio-technical systems is a relevant question sui generis, and it can also contribute to a better insight into the governance of systems change in general. Our point of departure is the observation that the governance of socio-technical systems (Hekkert et al., 2007; Bergek et al., 20073) has preferentially been perceived and associated with advancement and innovation.

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