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Explaining sociotechnical transitions: A critical realist perspective

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  • Sorrell, Steve

Abstract

This paper identifies and evaluates the explicit and implicit philosophical assumptions underlying the so-called multilevel perspective on sociotechnical transitions (MLP). These include assumptions about the nature of reality (ontology), the status of claims about that reality (epistemology) and the appropriate choice of research methods The paper assesses the consistency of these assumptions with the philosophical tradition of critical realism and uses this tradition to highlight a number of potential weaknesses of the MLP. These include: the problematic conception of social structure and the misleading priority given to intangible rules; the tendency to use theory as a heuristic device rather than causal explanation; the ambition to develop an extremely versatile framework rather than testing competing explanations; the relative neglect of the necessity or contingency of particular causal mechanisms; and the reliance upon single, historical case studies with insufficient use of comparative methods. However, the paper also concludes that the flexibility of the MLP allows room for reconciliation, and provides some suggestions on how that could be achieved – including proposing an alternative, critical realist interpretation of sociotechnical systems.

Suggested Citation

  • Sorrell, Steve, 2018. "Explaining sociotechnical transitions: A critical realist perspective," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 47(7), pages 1267-1282.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:respol:v:47:y:2018:i:7:p:1267-1282
    DOI: 10.1016/j.respol.2018.04.008
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    2. Nicola Stocco & Francesco Gardona & Fulvio Biddau & Paolo Francesco Cottone, 2021. "Learning Processes and Agency in the Decarbonization Context: A Systematic Review through a Cultural Psychology Point of View," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 13(18), pages 1-31, September.
    3. Jonas Heiberg & Christian Binz & Bernhard Truffer, 2020. "Assessing transitions through socio-technical network analysis – a methodological framework and a case study from the water sector," Papers in Evolutionary Economic Geography (PEEG) 2035, Utrecht University, Department of Human Geography and Spatial Planning, Group Economic Geography, revised Aug 2020.
    4. Kanger, Laur & Sillak, Silver, 2020. "Emergence, consolidation and dominance of meta-regimes: Exploring the historical evolution of mass production (1765–1972) from the Deep Transitions perspective," Technology in Society, Elsevier, vol. 63(C).
    5. Chantal P. Naidoo, 2019. "Relating Financial Systems to Sustainability Transitions: Challenges, Demands and Dimensions," SPRU Working Paper Series 2019-18, SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex Business School.
    6. Befort, N., 2020. "Going beyond definitions to understand tensions within the bioeconomy: The contribution of sociotechnical regimes to contested fields," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 153(C).
    7. Geddes, Anna & Schmidt, Tobias S., 2020. "Integrating finance into the multi-level perspective: Technology niche-finance regime interactions and financial policy interventions," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 49(6).

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