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).


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