IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Login to save this paper or follow this series

From Sustainability to Transformation: Dynamics and diversity in reflexive governance of vulnerability

  • Andy Stirling


    (SPRU, University of Sussex, UK)

Registered author(s):

    "This paper slightly amends a concluding chapter in the above book on ‘vulnerability in technological cultures’. It offers a personal view of key governance implications of this fruitful concept. Picking up earlier arguments, technological vulnerability is seen in a dual fashion – both in terms of the vulnerability of particular technological trajectories to subversion by powerful incumbent interests, as well as the vulnerability of societies and ecologies to the effects of technology. Either way (in common with other kinds of vulnerability), those interests which tend to be most adversely affected by these dynamics, are those that are already most disadvantaged. The argument begins by pointing out that governance institutions and discourses around Sustainability hold particular significance for this challenge. By contrast with prevailing (simply emergent) notions of progress, Sustainability constitutes political space and traction for more assertively publicly-deliberated normative frames. These in turn help enable greater social agency concerning the appropriate orientations for innovation pathways that pay greater respect to qualities of ecological integrity, social equity and human wellbeing. Beyond these normative dimensions, however, Sustainability also focuses attention on diverse possible dynamics of vulnerability. Distinguishing between styles of agency variously conceived as controlling or responsive, and temporal patterns perceivable as episodic shock or cumulative stress, four distinct dynamic properties are resolved (stability, durability, resilience and robustness). Each holds contrasting practical implications for governance institutions and instruments. But all address vulnerabilities in a fashion that assumes a normative interest in maintaining a given trajectory. The contrasting face of vulnerability also requires attention to an alternative normative aim: that of disrupting a given trajectory. Here, the same four dimensions of agency and temporality highlight four corresponding dynamics of disruption (transduction, transition, transilience and transformation). If governance is to escape from the powerful conditioning effects of incumbent interests, this framework may offer a basis for greater critical reflexivity over contrasting normativities and dynamics of vulnerability. So, the paper ends with a brief exploration of the implications for three interlinked aspects of diversity – involving the ‘opening up’ of ways in which technological trajectories are: epistemically understood; normatively appreciated; and ontologically performed in practice. It is argued that taking the dual faces of technological vulnerability seriously, requires attending more symmetrically to these essential conditions for more distributed and relational forms of social reflexivity. Only by this means, is it possible to escape not only the diverse ways in which incumbent concentrations of power close down technological trajectories themselves, but also the plural ways in which the general dynamics of technological vulnerability can even be imagined."

    If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    Paper provided by SPRU - Science and Technology Policy Research, University of Sussex in its series SPRU Working Paper Series with number 2014-06.

    in new window

    Date of creation: Apr 2014
    Date of revision:
    Handle: RePEc:sru:ssewps:2014-06
    Contact details of provider: Postal: Jubilee Building G08, Falmer, Brighton, BN1 9SL
    Phone: +44 (0)1273 686758
    Fax: +44 (0)1273 685865
    Web page:

    More information through EDIRC

    No references listed on IDEAS
    You can help add them by filling out this form.

    This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

    When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:sru:ssewps:2014-06. 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)

    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.

    If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

    If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with 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 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.

    This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.