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Exploring the role of failure in socio-technical transitions research

19 December, 2020

Exploring the role of failure in socio-technical transitions research

Benjamin K. Sovacool

Research paper   Digital Society

Bruno Turnheim and Benjamin K. Sovacool

In this paper, we offer a comprehensive and interdisciplinary review of ‘failure’ in transitions research. What is meant by failure, and is the community biased against it? How is failure explained through different perspectives? How can failures be addressed more appropriately in transitions studies? We synthesize a large body of evidence spanning transitions studies, innovation studies, science and technology studies, organisation and management studies, policy studies and the history of technology to probe and sharpen these questions. We examine within these literatures the instances and possibilities of success with transitions and discuss why this may be problematic, organising our analysis around four types of bias (selection, cognitive, interpretive, and prescription). In addition, we review three ‘families’ of framings of failure put forward in and around the socio-technical transitions literature, notably discrete failure events, systemic failings and processual accounts of failure, and discuss how they can be constructively put to work.

Publication details

Turnheim, B. and Sovacool, B.K. 2020. Exploring the role of failure in socio-technical transitions research. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, doi: 37: 267-289. Opens in a new tab10.1016/j.eist.2020.09.005 Open access

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