Pigs might fly, (in comfort) – on sociotechnical transitions, streams and social movements

“This eventually led to the development of a new pigsty concept called Pigs in Comfort Class (PCC) with a term derived from the aviation sector. [Regular sties were basically designed according to economic criteria, thus housing pigs in ‘economy class’. In contrast, the new stables were called ‘comfort class’, because pigs were much better off.]”

This above is from page 271 of this –

Elzen, B. Geels, G. Leeuiwis, C. and van Mierlo, B. 2011. Normative contestation in transitions ‘in the making’: Animal welfare concerns and system innovation in pig husbandry. Research Policy, Vol. 40, pp.263-275.

It’s a corking article that looks at pressures on incumbents (in this case the pig industry in the Netherlands) coming from moral entrepreneurs (animal rights organisations and political allies) and how this pressure ‘works’ –  if and when viable (i.e. cheap enough) technofixes are at hand to solve a problem.  But if the technofix arrives after pressure has faded, things can languish.  [So, the key question, which the authors don’t address-  and neither does anybody else – is how do you arrive at a situation where sustained pressure from social movements is common and effective… Answers on a postcard to the usual address… But I digress…]

The central research question is

How, when and why is normative contestation of existing regimes effective in influencing the orientation of transitions in the making?
(Elzen et al. 2011: 263)

So, they mash up the multilevel perspective with social movement theory [who builds pressure, how, when, for how long] and a modified ‘Multiple Streams Approach’ [with a market stream and a technology stream along side a problem stream and regulatory/politics stream].

There’s good stuff on how using the wrong analogies (pigs are not cows, and do not behave as such) led to dashed optimism of technological progress, with the resultant loss of credibility making life difficult when the techies did finally ‘get it right’.

They used crude concepts adapted from the cattle sector and then found these did not work very well. This eventually led to sector-wide hostility towards group housing of pregnant sows in general which was difficult to counter with results from further research, no matter how hard the scientist tried to show that the second-generation system worked well (Interview LTO).
(Elzen et al. 2011: 269)

and also on how by the time you do get the right technology sorted, the caravan may have moved on –

By 2005, when the technical research was finished, the world of pig farming had changed significantly compared to the late 1990s. Although animal welfare and environmental concerns were still present in the societal and political debate, they were less prominent. The sense of urgency that had followed the 1997 outbreak of swine fever and other animal diseases had largely disappeared. In 2003, a new government had taken office that strongly emphasised deregulation. So, when the Hercules concept was considered ready for practical use, the alignment between the political process and normative pressure had weakened considerably. Consequently, the project results were shelved.9
(Elzen et al. 2011: 271)

There is, naturlich,  state refusal to release awkward reports –

In 1972, one researcher at the Institute for Animal Husbandry Research wrote a report that noted that pigs were biting each other’s tails and ears because of boredom and stress, related to confinement in small spaces. The Ministry stopped publication of the report and forbade the author to speak about it in public (Crijns, 1998).
(Elzen et al. 2011: 269)

Not sure this will play much of a part in The Thesis, but in terms of how you might be able to slow down transitions, there are a couple of suggestive thoughts chasing each other around my noggin.


References wot caught my eye

Dacin, M.T., Beal, B.S., Ventresca, M.J., 1999. The embeddedness of organizations: dialogue & directions. Journal of Management 25, 317–356.

Geels, F.W., 2005. The dynamics of transitions in socio-technical systems: a multi-level analysis of the transition pathway from horse-drawn carriages to automobiles (1860-1930). Technology Analysis & Strategic Management 17, 445–476.

Rip, A., Kemp, R., 1998. Technological change. In: Rayner, S., Malone, E.L. (Eds.), Human Choice and Climate Change.  Battelle Press, Columbus, Ohio, pp. 327–399.

Click to access Rip%20and%20Kemp.pdf


Ah, and there is this.  Augean stables and all that…

Bos, B. and Grin, J. 2008. Doing Reflexive Modernization in Pig Husbandry: The Hard Work of Changing the Course of a River. Science , Technology and Human Values, Vol 33, (4), pp.480-507.
The Dutch animal production sector faces significant pressure for change. We discuss a project for the design of a sustainable husbandry system for pigs. Named after the Greek hero Hercules, the project aimed for structural changes in both animal and crop production. However, instead of changing the course of the river, the project ended up merely adapting its flow. The Hercules project ran into difficulties typical for projects aiming at reflexive modernization.
It relapsed from an effort for reflexive modernization to ecological modernization, by ultimately leaving the structural features of the sociotechnical regime intact. We show how this resulted from the biases and limitations implied by existing institutions, in which the project was unavoidably embedded. We introduce the idea of reflexive design, as “doing” reflexive modernization, which implies working on action and structure at the same time. A number of recommendations are given for reflexive design projects like this.

Keywords: sustainable development; reflexive modernization; ecological modernization; agriculture; animal husbandry

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