#Awalkinthepark – Transformers!, transitions, neo-institutional theory and SHIT v CHIC

So, one on the bed, one and a half while around the park (it turns out theory is far slower to read than fact-based stuff, who knew) and polishing off that second half of the third paper at my desk as the sun shines outside.  I really do need to get out more.

Gillard, R. Gouldson, A. Paavola, J. and Van Alstine, J. 2016. Transformational responses to climate change: beyond a systems perspective of social change in mitigation and adaptation. WIREs Climate Change, Vol. 7, pp251-265/

Kuzemko, C., Lockwood, M. Mitchell, C. and Hoggett, R. 2016. Governing for sustainable energy system change: Politics, contexts and contingency. Energy Research & Social Science, Vol. 12, pp.96-105.

Bell, S. undated.  Historical Institutionalism and the Dynamics Agency (under review)


Gillard et al do an impressive job of comparing and contrasting socio-technical transitions theory (STT) and social-ecological systems (SES) theory and what they have to tell us about the possibilities (fwiw, I don’t actually think there are any) of a rapid decarbonisation of, well, everything, but especially energy and transport systems.  They are keen on Deleuze and Guatarri and also the “social fields” thing.

So, they point to similarities between STT and SES (they’re both about complexity [management] after all)

the notion of an institutional entrepreneur—which has striking similarities to the niche innovators found in ST transitions—has gained conceptual currency in SE systems research. This idea builds in part on Folke et al.17 emphasizing social learning and leadership in adaptive governance, but also in part as a response to the criticisms leveled against climate policies that cast individuals as mere respondents to, rather than carriers of, transformational change.

Gillard et al, 2016: 256

And mention that the status quo is a nice idea to some –

For instance, the capacity to maintain the vital functions of a given social system may not always be exercised in a progressive or desirable manner, particularly from the viewpoint of the oppressed and marginalized who would rather see more radical change. In this form, resilience may be seen as an apology for incrementalism similar to that of the isomorphism of TM where restorative stability is preferred to disruptive alternatives. For this reason, human geographers and other scholars working on international development and security have been particularly critical of the rise of resilience as a new interdisciplinary norm. Some see this conservative form of resilience as depoliticizing climate change and reinforcing a neoliberal form of governing that is responsible for escalating socioeconomic inequality and vulnerability.
(Gillard, 2016:256)

They use understated when they mean overstated (easy mistake to make, to be fair), p259

Ultimately, they conclude we may turn to social theories— where power, politics, and social relations are of central concern—for insights and provocations. If ST and SE systems are to become more productive interdisciplinary frameworks capable of politically contextualized climate governance prescriptions then they will need more socially oriented theories of change. First, focusing on the contingent relations between various actors (human and nonhuman) and their assemblages (e.g., an industry or a community) instantly opens up possibilities for more radical innovation and adaptability beyond the discursive confines of a functionalist system perspective. Second, the interpretive and strategic actions of influential actors before, during, and after moments of crisis and agitation have to be made explicit. Tracking these processes across space and time exposes both the creative potential of social interactions and the institutionalized rules of the game that enable or constrain them.
(Gillard et al. 260-1)

And the game remains the same…

There’s a load of fascinating looking articles (listed at bottom)  I will have to get around to these at some point –

Kuzemko et al do a similar sort of thing, but this time comparing SST with neo-institutionalist theory.  It’s an interesting paper, which doesn’t do quite what I wanted it to (a systematic appraisal and contrasting of rational choice institutionalism, historical institutionalism (both sticky and contingent –see below)

They point out

Furthermore, although STT theories allow for a constitutive role for culture, interpretive frame-works, historically embedded norms and power structures, more needs to be done to understand how they affect policy choices, rules, regulations and outcomes ….
(Kuzemko et al., 2016: 98)


Although there is some recognition that policies that effectively enable energy innovations in one culture can dramatically differ from those that work in another, there has been too little attempt to explore why this might be the case ([1]: p. 119). Such over simplifications of governing for sustainable innovations mean that all too often, prospects for more diverse, creative and progressive forms of social and political transformation are conflated, in theory and practice, “. . .into a seemingly amorphous, singular, depoliticized ‘way forward”’
(Kuzemko et al., 2016: 98)

They outline institutionalism, and make a distinction between sociological and historical types –

Sociological institutionalists, as opposed to their historical institutionalist colleagues, tend to conceptualize governance as dynamic and subject to change over time. There are a number of suggestions about the conditions under which profound governance changes can happen: for example in the event of a significant party political shift as the result of a general election, during times of crisis and uncertainty, or more gradually via an accumulation of new rules and norms over time
(Kuzemko et al., 2016: 100)

But there are still problems –

Applied to theorizing governance for energy innovations, institutionalist theories can tell us more about the contingent and complex nature of energy governance and about drivers for change. However, the weakness of new institutionalist approaches, for our purposes, is that they focus too narrowly on the political and policy domains and, as such, tend not to provide methods of exploring links between policy and practice change in energy systems.
(Kuzemko et al., 2016: 101)

And of course

Formal political organizations, such as government departments, may have long histories of working to maintain the supply orientation of energy systems in line with historic energy industries, including also nuclear. Actor groups representing these industries can often mobilize considerable financial and knowledge capital behind influencing the terms of media and political debates emphasizing the need to innovate in ways that will ensure their survival
(Kuzemko et al., 2016: 102)

Indeed they do, as the example of Australia vividly shows…

They warn in their conclusion that

“a too narrow focus on governance will tend to result in analysis that can identify policy and regulatory changes clearly, but will have too little to tell us about how practices in energy systems are responding to those governance changes.”
(Kuzemko et al., 2016: 104)

And that

“there is a need to be precise about the domestic political context within which processes of governing for sustainable change take place.“
(Kuzemko et al., 2016: 104)

There are papers to be read from this extensive reference list (see below)

For me, I still don’t get the difference between configurations and assemblages

I won’t say much about Professor Stephen Bell’s paper, which he kindly sent me, for the following reasons

  1. It’s under review and so the final version may be different
  2. I don’t have a lot to add – I really liked it
  3. I’ve sent him a bunch of comments via email.

It’s a defence of a modified historical institutionalism that brings in insights from psychology (esp fast vs. slow thinking by Dan Kahneman) and then some empirics on the 2008 financial crisis.  Lots to think on, and when it is published I’ll return to it for a re-read and a re-blog.

So, you’ve got the Sticky Historical Institutionalism Theory versus the Contingent Historical Institutionalism Concept.  I know which I’d go for…

In the meantime,  McPhilemy’s notion of “cognitive regulatory capture” needs further  investigation

McPhilemy, S. 2013. Formal Rules versus Informal Relationships: Prudential Banking Supervision at the FSA Before the Crash. New Political Economy, 2013, Vol.18(5), p.748-767.


From the Gillard et al references-

Sovacool BK. 2014. What are we doing here? Analyzing fifteen years of energy scholarship and proposing a social science research agenda. Energy Res Soc Sci, 1:1–29.

Stirling A. 2011. Pluralising progress: from integrative transitions to transformative diversity. Environ Innov Soc Trans, 1:82–88.

O’Brien K, Sygna L. 2013. Responding to climate change: the three spheres of transformation. In: Proceedings of Transformation in a Changing Climate, Oslo, Norway, 19–21 June, 2013.

Geels FW. 2004. From sectoral systems of innovation to socio-technical systems: insights about dynamics and change from sociology and institutional theory. Res Policy, 33:897–920.

Sovacool BK. 2009. Rejecting renewables: the socio-technical impediments to renewable electricity in the United States. Energy Policy, 37:4500–4513.

Moloney S, Horne RE, Fien J. 2010. Transitioning to low carbon communities—from behaviour change to systemic change: Lessons from Australia. Energy Policy, 38:7614–7623.

Jørgensen U. 2012. Mapping and navigating transitions—the multi-level perspective compared with arenas of development. Res Policy, 41:996–1010.

Rickards L, Wiseman J, Kashima Y. 2014. Barriers to effective climate change mitigation: the case of senior government and business decision makers. WIREs Climate Change, 5:753–773.

Shove E. 2010. Beyond the ABC: climate change policy and theories of social change. Environ Planning A, 42:1273.

Munck af Rosenschöld J, Rozema JG, Frye-Levine LA. 2014. Institutional inertia and climate change: a review of the new institutionalist literature. WIREs Climate Change, 5:639–648.

McFarlane C. 2009. Translocal assemblages: space, power and social movements. Geoforum, 40:561–567.

Rose A. Resilience and sustainability in the face of disasters. Environ Innov Soc Trans 2011, 1:96–100.

Thornton PH, Ocasio W, Lounsbury M. The Institutional Logics Perspective: A New Approach to Culture, Structure, and Process. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2012.


References from Kuzemko et al

J.L. Campbell, O.K. Pedersen, Policy ideas, knowledge regimes and comparative political economy, Soc. Econ. Rev. Adv. Access 2015 (April)(2015), http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ser/mwv004.%5B8%5D

Carter, M. Jacobs, Explaining radical policy change: the case of climate change and energy policy under the British labour government 2006–10,Publ. Adm. 92 (1) (2014) 125–141.

Fouquet, The slow search for solutions: lessons from historical energy transitions by sector and service, Energy Policy 38 (2010) 6586–6596.

P.A. Hall, R.C.R. Taylor, Political science and the three newinstitutionalismstical science and the three new institutionalisms, Polit. Stud.44 (1996) 936–957.[30]

P.A. Hall, K. Thelen, Institutional change in varieties of capitalism itutional change in varieties of capitalism, Soc. Econo. Rev. 7 (1) (2009) 7–34.

Hay, Ideas, interests and institutions in the comparative political economy of great transformations, Rev. Int. Polit. Econ. 11 (1) (2004) 204–226.[33] C. Hay, Narrating crisis: the discursive construction of the winter of discontent, Sociology 30 (2) (1996) 253–277.

Mahoney, K. Thelen, A theory of gradual institutional change, in: J.Mahoney, K. Thelen (Eds.), Explaining Institutional Change: Ambiguity, Agency and Power, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2010.

DiMuzio, Capitalizing a future unsustainable: finance, energy and the fate of market civilization, Rev. Int. Polit. Econ. 19 (3) (2012) 363–388.

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