IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Transforming Power: social science and the politics of energy choices


  • Andy Stirling

    () (SPRU, University of Sussex, UK)


This paper addresses some key implications in momentous current global energy choices – both for social science and for society itself. Energy can be over-used as a lens for viewing social processes. But it is nonetheless of profound importance. Understanding possible ‘sustainable energy’ transformations requires attention to many tricky issues in social theory: around agency and structure and the interplay of power, contingency and practice. These factors are as much shaping of the knowledges and normativities supposedly driving transformation, as they are shaped by them. So, ideas and hopes about possible pathways for change – as well as notions of ‘the transition’ itself – can be deeply constituted by incumbent interests. The paper addresses these dynamics by considering contending forms of transformation centring on renewable energy, nuclear power and climate geoengineering. A series of challenges are identified for social science. These apply especially where there are aims to help enable more democratic exercise of social agency. They enjoin responsibilities to ‘open up’ (rather than ‘close down’), active political spaces for critical contention over alternative pathways. If due attention is to be given to marginalised interests, then a reflexive view needs to be taken of transformation. The paper ends with a series of concrete political lessons.

Suggested Citation

  • Andy Stirling, 2014. "Transforming Power: social science and the politics of energy choices," SPRU Working Paper Series 2014-03, SPRU - Science and Technology Policy Research, University of Sussex.
  • Handle: RePEc:sru:ssewps:2014-03

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. repec:eee:rensus:v:75:y:2017:i:c:p:989-1007 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Gralla, Fabienne & Abson, David J. & Møller, Anders P. & Lang, Daniel J. & von Wehrden, Henrik, 2017. "Energy transitions and national development indicators: A global review of nuclear energy production," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 70(C), pages 1251-1265.
    3. Rogge, Karoline S. & Reichardt, Kristin, 2016. "Policy mixes for sustainability transitions: An extended concept and framework for analysis," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 45(8), pages 1620-1635.
    4. Matt, M. & Gaunand, A. & Joly, P-B. & Colinet, L., 2017. "Opening the black box of impact – Ideal-type impact pathways in a public agricultural research organization," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 46(1), pages 207-218.
    5. repec:eee:appene:v:211:y:2018:i:c:p:792-808 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Islar, Mine & Brogaard, Sara & Lemberg-Pedersen, Martin, 2017. "Feasibility of energy justice: Exploring national and local efforts for energy development in Nepal," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 105(C), pages 668-676.
    7. Pellizzone, Anna & Allansdottir, Agnes & De Franco, Roberto & Muttoni, Giovanni & Manzella, Adele, 2015. "Exploring public engagement with geothermal energy in southern Italy: A case study," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 85(C), pages 1-11.
    8. repec:spr:agrhuv:v:34:y:2017:i:2:d:10.1007_s10460-016-9737-9 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Pellizzone, Anna & Allansdottir, Agnes & De Franco, Roberto & Muttoni, Giovanni & Manzella, Adele, 2017. "Geothermal energy and the public: A case study on deliberative citizens’ engagement in central Italy," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 101(C), pages 561-570.
    10. repec:eee:enepol:v:114:y:2018:i:c:p:444-454 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. Hanimann, Raphael & Vinterbäck, Johan & Mark-Herbert, Cecilia, 2015. "Consumer behavior in renewable electricity: Can branding in accordance with identity signaling increase demand for renewable electricity and strengthen supplier brands?," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 78(C), pages 11-21.
    12. Adela Conchado & Pedro Linares, 2017. "A New ‘Cut’ on Technological Innovation Aiming for Sustainability in a Globalized World," SPRU Working Paper Series 2017-25, SPRU - Science and Technology Policy Research, University of Sussex.
    13. Phil Johnstone & Andy Stirling, 2015. "Comparing Nuclear Power Trajectories inGermany And the UK: From ‘Regimes’ to ‘Democracies’ in Sociotechnical Transitions and Discontinuities," SPRU Working Paper Series 2015-18, SPRU - Science and Technology Policy Research, University of Sussex.
    14. Edomah, Norbert & Foulds, Chris & Jones, Aled, 2017. "Policy making and energy infrastructure change: A Nigerian case study of energy governance in the electricity sector," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 102(C), pages 476-485.
    15. repec:eee:enepol:v:109:y:2017:i:c:p:825-834 is not listed on IDEAS
    16. Rogge, Karoline S. & Pfluger, Benjamin & Geels, Frank, 2017. "Transformative policy mixes in socio-technical scenarios: The case of the low-carbon transition of the German electricity system (2010-2050)," Working Papers "Sustainability and Innovation" S11/2017, Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (ISI).
    17. Hanappi, Hardy & Scholz-Waeckerle, Manuel, 2015. "Evolutionary Political Economy: Content and Methods," MPRA Paper 75447, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    18. repec:spr:bioerq:v:3:y:2018:i:1:d:10.1007_s41247-018-0035-6 is not listed on IDEAS
    19. repec:eee:tefoso:v:127:y:2018:i:c:p:8-22 is not listed on IDEAS
    20. Erik Gawel & Sebastian Strunz & Paul Lehmann, 2016. "Support policies for renewables Instrument choice and instrument change from a Public Choice perspective," WIDER Working Paper Series 006, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    21. Kelly-Richards, Sarah & Silber-Coats, Noah & Crootof, Arica & Tecklin, David & Bauer, Carl, 2017. "Governing the transition to renewable energy: A review of impacts and policy issues in the small hydropower boom," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 101(C), pages 251-264.
    22. Purwanto, Widodo Wahyu & Afifah, Nok, 2016. "Assessing the impact of techno socioeconomic factors on sustainability indicators of microhydro power projects in Indonesia: A comparative study," Renewable Energy, Elsevier, vol. 93(C), pages 312-322.
    23. repec:eee:energy:v:127:y:2017:i:c:p:786-802 is not listed on IDEAS
    24. Julie. L MacArthur, 2016. "Challenging public engagement: participation, deliberation and power in renewable energy policy," Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, Springer;Association of Environmental Studies and Sciences, vol. 6(3), pages 631-640, September.
    25. Markard, Jochen & Hoffmann, Volker H., 2016. "Analysis of complementarities: Framework and examples from the energy transition," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 111(C), pages 63-75.

    More about this item


    power; social science; transformation; energy transitions; renewable energy; nuclear power; climate geoengineering; sustainability; reflexive governance; sociotechnical regimes; planetary boundaries;

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:sru:ssewps:2014-03. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Russell Eke). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.