How the sun also rises- on solar energy, institutional shifts and industry creation

Day three of my policy of writing about each paper/book I read under three categories (in escalating importance

a) highlight interesting theory/facts
b) relate the reading to other (academic) reading, and
c) how it helps me move forward on my Thesis, (Handing Over M-phatically   August/September ’17)   (aka “THOMAS”).

Today’s article (and yes, having to WRITE and even occasionally think has slowed down my reading already) is another corker, this time on the long slow (global) rise of solar.

Bohnsack, R. Pinske, J. and Waelpoel. A. 2016. The institutional evolution process of the global solar industry: The role of public and private actors in creating institutional shifts. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, Vol. 20, pp.16-32.

The article itself

The core contribution of the article is this –

“The study’s main contribution is in revealing that the development of the solar industry can be portrayed as a relay run, in which different actors, at different times, created the momentum for the industry’s evolution due to institutional shifts. We analyse this institutional evolution process by questioning which actors were responsible for the most significant institutional shifts that have moved the solar industry forward. Based on a study of the global solar industry, over the period of 1982–2012, the findings suggest that the main institutional shifts were the result of the interplay between different public and private actors that used various entrepreneurial mechanisms to drive the institutional evolution process.”

(Bohnsack et al. 2016: 17 )

There’s stuff on cognitive legitimacy, the work that companies do to lower prices and maintain quality (and so create expectations) and what government do (and do not) do to create “stimuli-based institutional shifts“.  Market creation etc. There’s a very neat brief history of the solar industry pre-1982 (think calculators and satellites) too.

After trawling through a lot newspaper articles and building a nifty timeline, the authors create a three part periodisation, and show how that ‘relay race’ has been run from Japan to Germany to China  (Australia, with it’s clever people but endless brain drain, doesn’t cop a mention). They conclude that

“While technological breakthroughs have been pertinent to the creation of the industry, our analysis shows that the industry’s institutional evolution has also been determined by institutional shifts. While companies seem to have employed a mechanism based on knowledge diffusion to create institutional shifts, governments used a stimuli-based mechanism instead. What differed in the process of creating institutional shifts was not only who the actors were that acted as institutional entrepreneurs, but also what role they played in this process.
(Bohnsack et al. 2016: 31)

And this perspective, they hope, will  allow everyone to

“go beyond the traditional dichotomy in transition studies of whether the forces that transform an industry come from outside, from new entrants that disrupt established industries, or from within, from incumbents (Bergek et al., 2013). Whereas previous studies have examined how incumbents use institutional approaches to resist change in their industry (Smink et al., 2015)”
(Bohnsack et al. 2016: 31)

Loads of mouth-watering references, most of them for the post-THOMAS world…


Aldrich, H.E., Fiol, C.M., 1994. Fools rush in? The institutional context of industry creation. Acad. Manage. Rev. 19, 645–670.

Battilana, J., Leca, B., Boxenbaum, E., 2009. How actors change institutions: towards a theory of institutional entrepreneurship. Acad. Manage. Ann. 3,65–107.

Bohnsack, R., Kolk, A., Pinkse, J., 2015. Catching recurring waves: low-emission vehicles, international policy developments and firm innovation strategies. Technol. Forecasting Social Change 98, 71–87.

Hoffman, A.J., 1999. Institutional evolution and change: environmentalism and the U.S. chemical industry. Acad. Manage. J. 42, 351–371.

Lawrence, T.B., Phillips, N., 2004. From Moby Dick to Free Willy: macro-cultural discourse and institutional entrepreneurship in emerging institutional fields. Organization 11, 689–711

Lawrence, T.B., Suddaby, R., 2006. Institutions and institutional work. In: Clegg, S.R., Hardy, C.,

Munir, K.A., Phillips, N., 2005. The birth of the ‘Kodak Moment’: Institutional entrepreneurship and the adoption of new technologies. Organiz. Stud. 26,1665–1687.Oliver, C., 1992.

Pinkse, J., Groot, K., 2015. Sustainable entrepreneurship and corporate political activity: overcoming market barriers in the clean energy sector. Entrepreneur. Theory Practice 39, 633–654.

Pinkse, J., van den Buuse, D., 2012. The development and commercialization of solar PV technology in the oil industry. Energy Policy 40, 11–20.


How relates to other reading.
Well, there is the whole stuff around path creation/market creation of course.
Lamertz et al on “institutional redesign”
Also heresthetics and sociology of expectations stuff…

How it helps me move forward on THOMAS.
This notion of institutional shifts and institutional work (IW).  Here you see industry’s doing knowledge-based IW governments doing stimuli-based IW.  In my case study, you’d turn that on its head and look at the state and corporations doing what could be called offensive institutional work (I’ve written about it a bit already, here).

Blame games and framing battles over renewables in South Australia

Adelaide and energy systems have one thing in common – they rarely  dominate the news agenda in Australia. However, twice in the past three months they have been front and centre. That reveals something interesting about the ‘framing battles’ taking place over renewable energy and whose vision for Australia’s future will win.

Price spike and blackouts
In July spot prices for electricity in South Australia briefly went through the roof. While some (mostly Murdoch-based) media and commentators were extremely quick  to blame this on the high levels of renewable energy generation in Australia, the truth was a) different and b) more complicated, as was later reported. And yes, as those among us old enough to remember Enron’s shenanigans in California 15 years ago, there was sharp practice afoot too.

Spot prices don’t really have a visceral impact though. According to Reneweconomy, one energy company CEO ‘that “99.999 per cent” of customers would not have been required to pay the higher electricity prices energy bill may be a little higher than you’d expected’ (and most businesses hedge against this sort of thing) but it doesn’t compare to the lights suddenly going out as they did all across South Australia as they did yesterday.

The actual cause of the blackout is well explained by a variety of experts asked to comment by The Conversation (full disclosure: I’ve written for the Conversation, and I think it’s brilliant)

While the price spike fight was a straightforward “renewables proponents versus those who would like to slow/stop/reverse the use of renewable energy” fight, the blackout battle is already more nuanced. As well as pro-and-anti renewables advocates there are also those who see the event as an opportunity to press for distributed energy.

Propagating an opinion about any contentious event that has affected people is a tricky. Too soon and you’re accused of ‘insensitivity’, too late and the relentless news cycle, with all the attention-span of a goldfish that hasn’t been taking its Ritalin, has moved on.

Some people –  Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce independent senator Nick Xenophon and State Liberals leader Stephen Marshall – were quick off the mark. In their eagerness, they may have mis-timed it.  Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten made the point

“If the Greens had blamed, while a bushfire was underway, if they had talked about climate change, Barnaby Joyce would have been all over them like a rash, calling them un-Australian and all the rest of the nonsense, yet here we have the conservatives trying to play politics about renewable energy when this is a storm, it is the weather blowing over towers,”

The slightly more sophisticated version that admits extreme weather was the cause of the blackout but still tries to mobilise the fear and uncertainty that it caused as part of the ‘slow down the states in their push for increased renewables’ campaign. In this camp you will find Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull – “What we know so far is that there was an extreme weather event that damaged a number of transmission line assets knocking over towers and lines, and that was the immediate cause of the blackout.” (source) and Environment Minister Josh Frydenburg, who had also been clear on the actual causes of the July price spike.

While admitting the present crisis is not caused by renewables, they still want to take the opportunity to try to de-legitimise the states’ renewables’ goals. Turnbull said that

it was time to stop the “political gamesmanship” between the states that has seen Queensland set a 50% renewable target when renewables account for only 4.5% of its mix currently.

“What’s the pathway to achieve that? Very hard to see it. It’s a political or ideological statement…. We’ve got to recognise that energy security is the key priority and targeting lower emissions is very important but it must be consistent with energy security.”

This antipathy to renewables should also be seen in the context of ongoing State-Federal government tensions on these issues. In the 2000s, while Liberal Prime Minister John Howard was resolutely blocking action on emissions reductions, Labor-led states began work on a states-based emissions reduction scheme instead. This was part of the pressure that forced Howard into a late-2006 U-turn, with both parties fighting the 2007 Federal election with an emissions trading scheme in their manifestos. The rest is history…   A similar dynamic is at play now, with Federal intransigence and outright hostility on a renewables target beyond 2020 being one of the factors behind ambitious action by states on the increase in renewables. The Federals simply don’t like being pushed around, forced into things that they don’t want to do.

What is interesting about this blackout though, is that it is also being used by proponents of distributed energy to boost their argument. This graphic, from here, captures that beautifully



Never let a serious crisis go to waste”
The use of events to try to shift the narrative about the proper place of technology is hardly new. When something goes “wrong”, there is an opportunity, as Raph Emanuel alludes to, to create a new ‘norm’.

For example, before World War 2, airships looked as if they might challenge heavier than air transport. Unfortunately for the industry, the (hydrogen-based) Hindenburg went up in flames at “the worst possible time to explode”, and so fixed the technology in the public mind as extremely dangerous.

If a technology doesn’t “fit” with a moral cosmology – a view of how the world ‘should be’-  its progress slowed or even stalled. My favourite example of this is the case of hookworm. As Deborah Stone writes, (1989)

“Bringing a condition under human control often poses a challenge to old hierarchies of wealth, privilege, or status. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, many poor rural whites in the South were afflicted with a chronic sickness later discovered to be caused by the hookworm parasite. People with the disease were listless and eventually became slow-witted. Popular belief held that the condition reflected the laziness and lax moral character of the victims. When Charles Stiles demonstrated in 1902 that hookworm was the cause and that the disease could easily be cured with a cheap medicine, he was widely ridiculed in the press for claiming to have discovered the “germ of laziness.” The discovery was resisted because it meant that southern elites had to stop blaming “poor white trash” for their laziness and stupidity and stop congratulating themselves for their superior ability to work hard and think fast – a supposed superiority that served to justify political hierarchy.”

Similar battles between technologies get fought all the time, whether it is over the legitimacy of nuclear power in the Netherlands and the UK, or the introduction of LED lighting and biofuels.

With our theory heads on, we should always remember that the appraisal of technology is not a ‘neutral’ process.

With our observers-of-current-events heads on, we can see  increasingly desperate attempts by advocates of the status quo – large, centralised (fossil fuel-based) electricity generation to blame any and all problems on the insurgent technology.  As the carbon accumulates in the atmosphere,  and the ‘1 in 50 year’ events happen more and more frequently, it will be a perverse kind of wonderful to watch.

Concern trolling, gaslighting, lying and other corporate strategies versus transition…

Day two of my new policy about writing what I read.

a) highlight interesting theory/facts
b) relate the reading to other (academic) reading, and
c) how it helps me move forward on my Thesis, (Handing Over M-phatically   August/September (’17)   (Thomas).

This paper below came via my supervisor and it is bloody fantastic.

Smink, M., Hekkert, M. and Negro, S. 2015. Keeping sustainable innovation on a leash? Exploring incumbents’ institutional strategies. Business Strategy and the Environment, Vol. 24, pp.86-101.

I did not know that this – what the big guys do when faced with upstarts – is a relatively understudied field.  And it makes me want ‘in’  (things are up in the air a bit with the analytic framework to cop with the piles of ‘facts’ I’ve gathered – more on that another time.)

Smink et al. are looking at what the big boys have done in the Netherlands when LED lighting and bio-fuels came along and had the potential to screw with profits and the cushy life  (these are ‘competence destroying innovations‘, in that they don’t easily fit within existing production lines etc. (Compare competence enhancing innovations)

So, there’s stuff on “institutional strategies”,  and “defensive institutional work” which a cynic would say is polite academese for ‘fixing the rules of the game‘…

Several authors show that incumbents have been able to (partially) capture the Dutch energy transition initiatives, which has reduced the potential for change (Avelino, 2009; Kern and Smith, 2008; Scrase and Smith, 2009; Voß et al., 2009).
(Smink et al. 2015: 88)

Institutional work is, quoting Lawrence and Suddaby (2016) “the purposive action of individuals and organizations aimed at creating, maintaining and disrupting institutions’ (p. 215).” Think Lewis Powell, in 1971 (see previous post)

What rules am I talking about? Well…

The effects of standards can be significant. Strict quality or safety standards can raise the production cost of a particular product or even exclude it from the market: technical standards thus shape the respective market (Bekkers and Martinelli, 2010).
(Smink et al. 2015: 90)

And how, well the usual ways –

Firms can attempt to influence public policy by engaging with policy makers and the general public through various channels. Specific information and messages are conveyed via lobbying, research reports and position papers, as well as via grassroots mobilization, various forms of advertising, contact with the media and educational activities. Furthermore, firms can engage with other market actors in the setting of technical standards.
(Smink et al. 2015: 90)

But there is some very very cool detail on the mechanics of this in the body of the article itself, based on interviews with insiders –

Here is the outright lie/smear from the title

In meetings with the Minister of Environment, the incumbent repeatedly claimed that the entrepreneur’s LED light was not ready for the market. During Taskforce Lighting meetings (issued by the ministry to increase energy efficiency), the incumbent brought along scientists who supported this claim. The minister only learned that this ‘authoritative’ statement was false when the entrepreneur actually demonstrated the functioning of the LED light in person during a meeting (entrepreneur 1, 2010).
(Smink et al. 2015: 92)

I will write separately on the whole “proof of concept” of new technologies – remind me to do so… Why, because the new disruptive technology (LEDs) might hurt profits, and the big boys weren’t yet in a position to exploit it.

Meanwhile, biofuels were also a pain. What to do? Well, try to pop the hype (and just for the record, biofuels are not my mitigation technology of choice).

Moreover, at the time the Dutch government had to transpose the Biofuel Directive into national law, the Dutch oil industry provided a study that concluded that CO2 reduction could be obtained more efficiently by co-firing biomass than by blending biofuels (de Volkskrant, 2003a, 2003b).
(Smink et al. 2015: 94)

And of course, you better take ownership of the ‘advisory panels’….

In response to the food versus fuel debate, the VNPI emphasized to ‘take it easy with the development of biofuels’ (policy maker 1, 2011). Their arguments concerned the availability of sustainable biomass and the availability of a certification scheme (policy maker 1, 2011; policy maker 2, 2012). Platform member 1 (2010) points to the enormous and persistent efforts of the oil industry to supply Dutch policy makers with information showing that not enough sustainable biomass was available. These efforts are said to take place in direct contact with the minister (policy maker 2, 2012) and within the Cramer Committee and the Corbey Committee (policy maker 1, 2011) that had been installed by the Dutch minister to investigate sustainability questions related to biomass. In 2008, the Netherlands indeed lowered the prescribed blending target for 2010 from 5.75% to 4% (Agentschap NL, 2012).
(Smink et al. 2015: 94)

Smink et al have some great observations. On concern trolling, catch the brass neck of the incumbents in this

Third, incumbents tailor their arguments to general policy goals: they express their interests in terms of socially legitimate goals. For instance, the lighting incumbent makes negative statements about competitors’ products, based on the premise that consumers should be protected against products that do not meet efficiency or other standards. Although this is a praiseworthy aim, it is not a logical task for an actor with related and conflicting commercial interests. Similarly, the oil incumbent states that it is very important that biofuels used for blending are produced from sustainable biomass. In itself, this is a legitimate argument. However, this criterion slows down the development of the biofuel market, due to the certification system that has to be put in place.
(Smink et al. 2015: 96)

Heaps of stuff I should (re) read

Farla J, Markard J, Raven R, Coenen L. 2012. Sustainability transitions in the making: a closer look at actors, strategies and resources. Technological Forecasting and Social Change 79(6): 991–998.

Geels FW, Schot J. 2007. Typology of sociotechnical transition pathways. Research Policy 36(3): 399–417.

Lawrence TB, Suddaby R. 2006. Institutions and institutional work. In Handbook of Organization Studies, Clegg SR, Hardy C, Lawrence TB, Nord WR (eds). Sage: London; 215–254.

Maguire S, Hardy C. 2009. Discourse and deinstitutionalization: the decline of DDT. Academy of Management Journal 52(1): 148–178.

Voß J-P, Smith A, Grin J. 2009. Designing long-term policy: rethinking transition management. Policy Sciences 42(4): 275–302.

Usefulness for my thesis? If I go down the institutional work/regime resistance route, the this paper is going to be very very important.  Coal industry and its relationship with the state, versus all forms of environmental regulation, support for renewables.  Who does what institutional work, when?  etc etc

Watch this space.

Two Lewises and the America Empire. Oh, and resonance machines…

So, new policy.  Stuff that gets read while I walk around the park with a backpack full of books and weights [walk in the park], gets written up before I am allowed to do any more reading.  And the job is to try to

a) highlight interesting theory/facts
b) relate the reading to other (academic) reading, and
c) how it helps me move forward on my Thesis, (Handing Over M-phatically   August/September (’17)   (Thomas).

Therefore, in theory (hah!) I won’t be reading stuff that doesn’t have a more-than-tangential-relationship to THOMAS.

This morning I read

Lapham, L. 2004. Tentacles of Rage: The Republican propaganda mill, a brief history. Harpers Magazine, September, pp.31-41.

Lewis Lapham is writing about how the Republicans managed to shift ‘common sense’ to the ‘right’.  It basically argues that the “neoliberal” revolution didn’t start with Thatcher, Reagan getting elected but the (Lewis) Powell Memorandum in 1971.  Lapham argues that in the late 60s the elites were shook up by all the hippies and anti-war activity (there’s a lovely scene at the end of the Elliot Gould moving ‘Going Straight’, which I’d use if I were writing an essay.  Maybe I will).

And according to Lapham the growth of the interlocking mutually reinforcing thinktanks can be “traced to the recognition on the part of the country’s corporate gentry in the late 1960s that they lacked the intellectual means to comprehend, much less quell or combat, the social and political turmoil then engulfing the whole of American society.”

And, with the Powell Memorandum (the clue is in the name – Confidential Memorandum: Attack on the American Free Enterprise System, i.e. a call to arms by a guy who later became a Supreme Court justice) and some deep-pocketed millionaires and billionaires (including today’s betes-noirs the Koch Brothers) various outfits like the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute etc were brought into existence. Lapham is good on the mechanics of this, and also on the coalition with the Christian right, in an electoral pact that continues even with the thrice married and until recently pro-choice Donald Trump (see this excellent piece for more on that).

My favourite piece was Lapham observing that “In the glut of paper I could find no unifying or fundamental principle except a certain belief that money was good for rich people and bad for poor people. it was the only point on which all the authorities agreed, and no matter where the words wee coming from a report on federal housing, an essay on the payment of Social Security, articles on he sorrow of the slums or the wonder of the U.S. navy) the authors invariably found the same abiding lesson in the tale  money ennobles rich people,making them strong as well as wise; money corrupts poor people, making them stupid as well as weak. “

There are two criticisms of the piece that I’ve found.

Less seriously, one of lesser known apparatchiks had a go at Lapham, and pointed out that “liberal philanthropy outspends conservative by 25 to 1”. But of course he was comparing apples and oranges, in that most liberal philanthropy is NOT funding policy-attack-doggery but this or that social program.  More seriously, well, this from wikipedia ;

Lapham wrote a September 2004 column for Harper’s in which he included a brief account of the Republican National Convention as if the event had already happened and he had witnessed it, “reflecting on the content and sharing with readers a question that occurred to him as he listened”,[4] as Jennifer Senior wrote in the New York Times Book Review. But the magazine arrived in subscribers’ mailboxes before the convention had actually taken place, as Senior says “forcing Lapham to admit that the scene was a fiction”. The columnist apologized, “but pointed out political conventions are drearily scripted anyway – he basically knew what was going to be said”. Senior continues, “By this logic, though, I could have chosen not to read Pretensions to Empire before reviewing it, since I already knew Lapham’s sensibility, just as he claims to know the Republicans.”[4] Indeed, Senior’s reading of Pretensions to Empire was called into question by her claim that the convention essay was “conspicuously” missing from Pretensions to Empire, when, in fact, an edited version of that essay opens the book. The New York Times published a correction and Senior described her error as “an honest mistake”.[5]

Relate the reading to other (academic) reading/literature


Connection to THOMAS

Potentially useful on the shaping of ‘common sense’/setting limits on the art of the possible, seeding ideas/instruments into the policy stream, denial in the problem stream etc.

The key differences in Australia from what Lapham/Connolly/Barley etc describe  is that the pockets of the philanthropists just aren’t that deep, the number of think-tanks is significantly smaller,and the ‘right’ has not been able to hook up with the religious, because the white people who came were not leaving because Britain was insufficiently religiously intolerant for them…  The soil simply not as fertile for the evangelical/capitalist resonance machine….


“Turn, turn, turn” -policy theory is for the Byrds…

So, there is a corking PhD that I am reading. It’s called The politics of governing ‘system innovations’ towards sustainable electricity systems.  You can find it here.

Mustn’t quote too much, obviously (copyright etc). but this was useful, from page 27- 8



“Political sociology and political science have focused on how the pursuit of self-interest affects politics and policy making in advanced capitalist societies. This has been true for pluralist, elite, neo-Marxist, historical institutionalist, and rational choice theories. Scholars have paid far less attention to how ideas, that is, theories, conceptual models, norms, world views, frames, principled beliefs, and the like, rather than self-interests,
affect policy making” (Campbell 2002: 21).

However, there has been a turn in policy studies to go beyond traditional explanations of politics based on interests and power struggles. This development, seen since the 1990s, has been described as the ‘argumentative turn’ (Fischer and Forester 1993), the ‘ideational turn’ (Blyth 1997) or the ‘cognitive turn’ in policy studies (Nullmeier 2006). Despite the differences in emphasis, the common aim of these research agendas was to take ideas seriously as explanatory factors in policy change.


And gives me an excuse to hear one of my favourite songs, based on one of the few readable books of the Old Testament.

Vale Pete Seeger

The upside of coal

See below for a truly extraordinary coal advert from 1975, where, looking for fresh workers, the UK National Coal Board basically says “this job is a fanny magnet.”

Meanwhile, I just finished Evelyn Waugh’s Put Out More Flags, which some say is his best.  Published in 1942, it is about the phoney war – it starts in September 1939 and finishes, mostly, with the British expedition to Norway in April 1940.  It’s bleak, funny, scathing etc.  Waugh definitely on top form.  This bit caught my eye, and may turn up either in my thesis or something else about the ‘value’ of fossil fuels.’

The Cafe Royal, perhaps because of its distant associations with Oscar and Aubrey, was one of the places where Ambrose preened himself, spread his feathers and felt free to take wing. He had left his persecution mania downstairs with his hat and umbrella. He defied the universe.

‘The decline of England, my dear Geoffrey,’ he said, ‘dates from the day we abandoned coal fuel. No, I’m not talking about distressed areas, but about distressed souls, my dear. We used to live in a fog, the splendid, luminous, tawny fogs of our early childhood. The golden aura of the Golden Age. Think of it, Geoffrey, there are children now coming to manhood who never saw a London fog. We designed a city which was meant to be seen in a fog. We had a foggy habit of life and a rich, obscure, choking literature. The great catch in the throat of English lyric poetry is just fog, my dear, on the vocal chords. And out of the fog we could rule the world; we were a Voice, like the Voice of Sinai from a cloud. Then, my dear Geoffrey,’ said Ambrose, wagging an accusing finger and fixing Mr Bentley with a black accusing eye, as though the poor publisher were personally responsible for the whole thing, ‘then, some busybody invents electricity or oil fuel or whatever it is they use nowadays. The fog lifts, the world sees us as we are, and worse still we see ourselves as we are. It was a carnival ball, my dear, which when the guests unmasked at midnight, was found to be composed entirely of imposters. Such a rumpus, my dear.’

Evelyn Waugh, Put Out More Flags (Spring, Ch 4)

Now, that extraordinary advert. Brace yourselves.

Vale Erik Petersen – “Old time mem’ry”

Just found out that Erik Petersen, of Mischief Brew died earlier this year. I never saw him perform, and have only today been listening to his (excellent) work.  Al Baker had covered one of his songs (co-written with Robert Blake), which he kindly played at my wedding.  It’s a corker; beautiful to listen to, the lyrics so powerful, constantly questioning, probing, undercutting wishful certainties.

Here’s Al

Here’s Erik

And here’s those wonderful lyrics

When Father bought the farm, we sold the farm
Mistook his blood for rustic charm
Sold his ghost as an antique
To the city

Kids today can’t hold a spade
Rest in peace your weary trades
In this world there is no place
Such a pity

Well, the barman shakes his head and fills my glass
Says ‘We’re living in the past.
Why preserve a dying craft?
End its misery.’

We sigh and see another modern man
One of property, not land
So I hold out this battered hand
Will you listen?

Come sit down, we’re lamenting about yesterday’s sad ending
‘Bout the water in me whiskey
The brass passed off as gold
Another round, we’re descending into old tyme mem’ry
Of a day when wood was wooden, silver-silver, gold was gold
Sweet home was home

So you say you got a wooden stove in your second home
Runs on gas, but looks like oak
Hell, it even gives off smoke and glowing embers

There’s a quilt hung on the wall, reads ‘Home, Sweet Home’
Below some wise words from Thoreau
And they call me throwback; when I cry I remember

Come sit down, we’re lamenting about yesterday’s sad ending
‘Bout the water in me whiskey
The brass passed off as gold
Another round, we’re descending into old tyme mem’ry
Of a day when wood was wooden, silver-silver, gold was gold
Sweet home was home

Son, these tools are artifacts
Endangered species left its tracks
So lock me up behind plastic glass in the city

There’s no going back for me
This antique’s rustic eulogy
Shall be sold as folk artistry, such a pity

But I’ll never understand why they all only use those hands
To build a stead that will always stand
In old time country

But settle for white rooms and hollow doors
Paper ceilings, padded floors
Luxury boxes where you’re stored; and what was country?

Come sit down, we’re lamenting about yesterday’s sad ending
‘Bout the water in me whiskey
The brass passed off as gold
Another round, we’re descending into old tyme mem’ry
Of a day when wood was wooden, silver-silver, gold was gold

Another round, we’re lamenting about yesterday’s sad ending
‘Bout the water in me whiskey
The brass passed off as gold
Another round, we’re descending into old tyme mem’ry

Of a day when wood was wooden, silver-silver, gold was gold
Sweet home was home

Why argue with #climate denialists? It’s comforting is why

“Never wrestle with a pig, you both get muddy, but the pig enjoys it” as the old saying goes.  But what if we, secretly, enjoy it too? Or if wrestling with the pig is a safer and more fun option that wrestling with the angry rabid hippo who is next in line?

WTAF am I talking about?

Well, I stumbled on some interesting work by a guy called William Connolly, and blogged it. Among much else, Connolly discerns two kinds of climate denial-

First stage denial is the insistence by many evangelicals and neoliberals that the issue is not nearly as severe as climate scientists and the recent flood of climate marchers in many cities contend. The second stage of denial is admitting the issue but continuing to study and act within old sociocentric categories. We need to confront both modes.
(Connolly and Macdonald, 2015: 266)

Connolly, W.   and Macdonald, B. 2015. Confronting the Anthropocene and Contesting Neoliberalism: An Interview with William E. Connolly. New Political Science, 37:2, 259-275.

.  A reader of this blog (who knew such a creature existed) then put his own take on things here.

And he and I have had further discussion (hopefully the beginning of a really useful conversation). And in that context I am going to plagiarise/rework a little about “why argue with denialists”.  I think there are two reasons

The changes (political, economic, social, psychological and, yes, spiritual) that will/would be needed to keep warming below two degrees are enormous (I would argue impossible now, but that’s for another post).  Therefore, rather than confront those changes and the amount of work – outside our comfort zones – that would be needed, it is “safer” to argue with the idiots.
ALSO, “we” know we’ve fundamentally missed the boat on mitigation, that we who have known about the problem have been unsuccessful in our efforts over the last 30 years (myself included).  That’s an awful thing to have to realise, that self-recrimination, also very threatening.  So, easier to beat up on the denialists.
If it’s a choice between a pig and a hippo,  you choose the pig, every time…


Overflows and undertows – Callon, James and so on.

Bimbling around looking for work on how economic modelling is used to ‘construct’ reality/possibility, I stumbled on “An essay on framing and overflowing: economic externalities revisited by sociology” by M Callon, 1998.  This (among other bits) struck me –

The second attitude, typical of constructivist sociology in particular, takes the view that overflowing is the rule; that framing—when present at all—is a rare and expensive outcome; in short, is very costly to set up. Without the theatre building and its physical devices; without years of training and hours of rehearsal put in by the actors; without the habitual mindset of the audience and carefully written dramas which deliberately limit the range of preprogrammed interactions, the framing of a stage performance would be quite simply inconceivable. This viewpoint is thus the exact opposite of the preceding one: instead of regarding framing as something that happens of itself, and overflows as a kind of accident which must be put right, overflows are the rule and framing is a fragile, artificial result based upon substantial investments.7 Constructivist sociology does not deny that it is possible to achieve such clarity or put such frameworks in place, nor that such an objective is worth pursuing (see below for a more detailed discussion of this point). But it is primarily interested in showing that such a framing process, in addition to requiring expensive physical and symbolic devices, is always incomplete and that without this incompleteness would in fact be wholly ineffectual.

This fall apart, things spill over, the worms kick over the can from the inside, and prise open the lid.  It’s messy.  Smudges and kludges (my latest saying, taking over from “what a species”).

And somehow, because my synapses do this a lot, I got an echo. If there are overflows, there are undertows….

Drawn by the undertow
My life is out of control
I believe this wave will bear my weight
So let it flow

From here, of course.

Innovation in complex systems? Oh, FFS…. And CCS

By FFS I mean “Full-Flight Simulators”.  What am I on about? So, innovation in mass produced commodity products (aka “widgets”) is, cough, relatively straight-forward.  Lots of opportunities for iteration, incremental learning, process and product innovation, tacit knowledge creation/management.    Shakeouts after the establishment of a ‘dominant design’, followed by incremental shifts that squeeze a leetle more efficiency out … But what if your product is incredibly complicated, and essentially a “one” (or maybe up to five) “off”?  Say, for example, flight simulators.  That is, what if it is part of a “Complex System”  (CS).  You see, I’ve been reading, awestruck at its coolness, this –

Reading and loving – Miller, R. Hobday, M, Leoux-Demers, T. and Olleros, X. 1995. Innovation in Complex Systems Industries: The Case of Flight Simulation. Industrial and Corporate Change Volume 4, Issue 2 363-400

Miller et al. argue that

while the conventional model may apply to mass market commodity products it is highly unlikely to apply to another important group of products and industries, classified here as CSs.2 As Part I argues, CSs account for a significant proportion of industrial output. In contrast with commodity goods, complex product systems are large item, customized, engineering intensive goods which are seldom, if ever, mass produced.3 Examples include flight simulators, telecommunications exchanges, electrical power equipment, military systems, airplanes, helicopters, flexible manufacturing systems, chemical process plant, intelligent buildings and nuclear power equipment.

(Miller et al. 1995: 364)

CSes have three ‘watch out, these aren’t just widgets’ features . They are

“first, they made up of many interconnected, often customized, elements (including control units, sub-systems and components), usually organized in a hierarchical way; second, CSs exhibit non-linear and continuously emerging properties, whereby small changes in one part of the system can lead to large alterations in other parts of the system; and third, there is a high degree of user involvement in the innovation process, through which the needs of the economic environment feed directly into the innovation process (rather than through the market as in the standard model).”
(Miller et al. 1995: 368)

They did a bucketload (like 120!!) of interviews and really got “into” the development of the flight simulator industry, and tell the tale well –

FS was born when Ed Link patented a simple mechanical flight trainer in 1929- During World War II electronic analogue simulators were built to train pilots and reduce the number of accidents. Early commercialization began with Link, Miles and the Wright Brothers. In 1951 Redifon (now Rediffusjon) built a Stratocruiser simulator for BOAC. BOAC and Lufthansa placed initial orders with CAE of Canada in the early 1960s.

From the early 1950s to the mid-1960s (prior to digital computing) a long period of experimentation took place, but there was little in the way of landmark innovations. Analogue computers improved gradually, as did the hydraulics and visuals. During this period the industry began a slow take-off.

During the late-1960s digital mainframe computers took over from analogue ones, leading to a rapid improvement in the fidelity, speed and capacity of FSs. However, up until the late-1970s pilots were mostly trained in airplanes. Simulators were viewed as a complement to live training rather than a substitute for it. Some training credits were granted by the regulators, but the process of certification was ill-defined and informal. Simulator technology was perceived as inadequate for manoeuvres such as take-off, landing and missed approach. Increasingly, though, the needs of more powerful jet aircraft encouraged a focus on problems such as air turbulence, recovery manoeuvres and landing and take-off procedures so that costly and dangerous live training in aircraft could be minimized.
(Miller et al. 1995: 376)

It’s a complicated business of course –

Full-flight simulators (FFSs) are full-size replicas of specific aircraft cockpits. They combine mathematical models and original flight data to simulate the behaviour of the aircraft and record pilots’ responses to changing conditions. Given the cost of commercial flight time, pilot training and re-training is carried out in FFSs.

(Miller et al. 1995: 377)

and so

FS makers are required to master at least four technical fields: (i) the skills to integrate interdependent hardware and software components (motion, visual, computer and cockpit) into a coherent whole (the simulator); (ii) the know-how to use and develop the mathematical simulations which replicate the behaviour of the aircraft (as well as the actions of pilots and crew); (iii) the detailed knowledge of client requirements for training, checking and quality programmes which involves theoretical work as well as teaching methods; and (iv) a knowledge of rules and regulations (notably the acceptance test guides) which specify the requirements for simulator approval.
(Miller et al. 1995:381)

So, given that, it comes down to a very complicated and “uncertain” set of processes, that go far beyond “the invisible hand of the market” –

To sum up, the need to coordinate innovation in FS called forth a complex institutional superstructure. New technology proposals are channelled through professional bodies such as the Royal Aeronautical Society. Acceptance test guides are established by regulators who then specify approval requirements and validate tests during and after the development of an FS. After contracting, trust and reciprocity are necessary between buyers and sellers. Because many uncertainties have to be resolved during the process of innovation in FSs, they cannot be purchased as arm’s length market transactions as in the standard model. Instead, intense relational transactions develop, allowing for constant information exchange and regular interaction between industry participants. Continuity of relationships is valued and respected, and helps define the competence of partners. Innovation in FS unfolds within a set of governing institutions where, as discussed below, cooperation and competition co-exist.
(Miller et al. 1995: 384)

So, Schumpetarians, this is a bit more complicated than you’d like to believe-

As noted in Part I, in the conventional Schumpeterian model, radical technological discontinuity leads to creative industrial disruption. Subsequent process and product innovations shape observed patterns of exit and entry (Tushman and Anderson, 1986; Utterback and Suarez, 1993). These elements of the conventional model do not fit the FS industry, nor are they likely to apply to other CSs industries (Hobday, 1994).
(Miller et al. 1995: 386)

And, generally, we forget the past, (if we ever knew it), and fill it in with convenient just-so stories…  Research like this reminds us that

“the institutional structures and processes taken for granted in today’s industry did not simply occur or arise out of market transactions. On the contrary, they were initiated and crafted by a small number of key individuals widely recognized across the industry as entrepreneurial leaders, not only in the field of technical innovation but also in the areas of regulation, standards and consensus building. Each successive wave of technological change was associated with one or more industry champions, including Edward Booth (Federal Aviation Administration), Captain Ray Jones (Royal Aeronautical Society), Brian Hamson (CAE), Vince de Paulo (American Airlines), Hans Dieter Hass (Lufthansa) and M. Bess (Air France). Drawn from a variety of groups in the innovation structure, these individual were entrusted by their organizations to bring about progress in the national and international decision-making institutions, for the benefit of the entire FS industry.”
(Miller et al. 1995: 390)

Nothing, absolutely nothing, in this makes me think that CCS ever stood a chance, as a world-wide diffused technology dependent on not just human smarts (FFS) but also co-opeative geology.

We’re so toast. Carpe the goddam diems.

BTW – Here’s the abstract

The paper proposes that the notion of complex systems usefully describes a group of large scale, customized products and their associated supply industries. Examples include flight simulators (FSs), telecommunications exchanges, military systems, airplanes, chemical process plants and heavy electrical equipment. Complex systems, made up of many interconnected customized components, exhibit emerging properties through time as they respond to the evolving needs of large users. Taking the FS industry as a case history, the study identifies some of the basic rules governing innovation in this industry. These rules contrast sharply with those typically found in the ‘conventional’, market contest Schumpeterian model. Innovation in FS is coordinated by an institutional structure made up of suppliers, users, regulators, industry associations and professional bodies. In contrast with co.tventional market selection, new designs are negotiated prior to product development. Long-term stability among FS makers is observed, despite radical technological discontinuities, as industrial adjustment occurs via the exit and entry of specialist suppliers. There is no dominant design in the usual sense, nor do the conventional rules of volume competition and  process-intensive innovation apply in FS. Competitive strategies remain focused upon design, engineering and prototype development, rather than incremental process innovation. Collaboration occurs among the innovation actors within institutions created by them to harness innovation and to allow new product markets to develop. Recognizing the limits of a single case, the paper suggests that other complex systems might exhibit similar processes for governing innovation and reducing risk and uncertainty in the  absence of conventional Schumpeterian market mechanisms.