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The needs of society: A new understanding of transitions, sustainability and liveability


  • de Haan, Fjalar J.
  • Ferguson, Briony C.
  • Adamowicz, Rachelle C.
  • Johnstone, Phillip
  • Brown, Rebekah R.
  • Wong, Tony H.F.


Transitions studies have long been concerned with sustainability and, more recently, liveability. Throughout its growth into a research field in its own right, transitions have been suggested as essential in overcoming the socio-technical lock-ins that make many of today's infrastructural solutions and servicing systems untenable. Likely for that reason, transitions and the systems in need of them are often described in terms of change in infrastructure and services in those societal systems. This article proposes a different point of view of societal systems and transitions, where societal systems are considered to be systems that have evolved to meet societal needs. Using established theory from social psychology a framework of societal needs is developed that allows a more encompassing and systematic description of societal systems and, moreover, has an intrinsic facility to address matters like sustainability and liveability. Rather than discarding the current concepts of transitions studies this viewpoint enables a more flexible underpinning that broadens the scope of theoretical tools. This framework is further elaborated in this article for transitions in urban water servicing and illustrated by an Australian vision for sustainable urban water systems: Water Sensitive Cities.

Suggested Citation

  • de Haan, Fjalar J. & Ferguson, Briony C. & Adamowicz, Rachelle C. & Johnstone, Phillip & Brown, Rebekah R. & Wong, Tony H.F., 2014. "The needs of society: A new understanding of transitions, sustainability and liveability," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 85(C), pages 121-132.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:tefoso:v:85:y:2014:i:c:p:121-132
    DOI: 10.1016/j.techfore.2013.09.005

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    2. Amartya Sen, 2005. "Human Rights and Capabilities," Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 6(2), pages 151-166.
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    6. Geels, Frank W., 2004. "From sectoral systems of innovation to socio-technical systems: Insights about dynamics and change from sociology and institutional theory," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 33(6-7), pages 897-920, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Särkilahti, Maarit & Kinnunen, Viljami & Kettunen, Riitta & Jokinen, Ari & Rintala, Jukka, 2017. "Replacing centralised waste and sanitation infrastructure with local treatment and nutrient recycling: Expert opinions in the context of urban planning," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 118(C), pages 195-204.
    2. Malekpour, Shirin & de Haan, Fjalar J. & Brown, Rebekah R., 2016. "A methodology to enable exploratory thinking in strategic planning," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 105(C), pages 192-202.
    3. repec:eee:enepol:v:110:y:2017:i:c:p:271-287 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Madsen, Herle Mo & Brown, Rebekah & Elle, Morten & Mikkelsen, Peter Steen, 2017. "Social construction of stormwater control measures in Melbourne and Copenhagen: A discourse analysis of technological change, embedded meanings and potential mainstreaming," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 115(C), pages 198-209.
    5. Moallemi, Enayat A. & de Haan, Fjalar J. & Webb, John M. & George, Biju A. & Aye, Lu, 2017. "Transition dynamics in state-influenced niche empowerments: Experiences from India's electricity sector," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 116(C), pages 129-141.


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