Micro-Dynamics and Institutional Change in Regional Transition Paths to Sustainability

Major ecological and social challenges require fundamental societal changes towards more sustainable production and consumption patterns. An important basis for such "sustainability transitions" are changes in institutional structures (e.g., laws, values and interpretive schemes) that pr...

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Main Author: Pflitsch, Gesa Mareen
Contributors: Strambach, Simone (Prof. Dr.) (Thesis advisor)
Format: Dissertation
Language:English
Published: Philipps-Universität Marburg 2019
Geographie
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Summary:Major ecological and social challenges require fundamental societal changes towards more sustainable production and consumption patterns. An important basis for such "sustainability transitions" are changes in institutional structures (e.g., laws, values and interpretive schemes) that promote sustainable social practices. Currently, little is known about how such institutional changes are triggered and how they evolve. In particular, it is poorly understood how the activities of actors on the micro-level affect the development of institutional structures in the long run and why such processes vary between regions. This thesis analyzes institutional dynamics in sustainability transitions from a regional perspective in order to gain a better understanding of the place-specificity of these processes. Based on the premise that regional sustainability transitions differ from sectoral transition processes, which have hitherto been in the focus of transition research, the dissertation follows three aims: (1) to develop a conceptual framework that captures the particularities of institutional change in regional sustainability transitions; (2) to develop a methodological approach that enables to analyze the complex institutional dynamics underlying regional sustainability transitions; (3) to generate empirical insights into regional sustainability transitions and the actors that drive them on the micro-level. The newly developed conceptual framework of “Regional Transition Paths to Sustainability (RTPS)” builds on insights from Sustainability Transitions literature, Neo-institutional Theory and Evolutionary Economic Geography (EEG). Compared to existing approaches that serve to investigate sustainability transitions (in particular the multi-level perspective; MLP), the RTPS approach considers the particularities that shape sustainability transitions at the regional level, such as their gradual and regime-overarching nature, the spatial proximity of actors, regional path dependencies, and the embeddedness of regions in multi-scalar governance networks. The framework focuses on new organizational forms as enablers of both, change and stability, in regional transition paths to sustainability. In doing so, the framework is sensitive to gradual changes in regional institutional structures and their underlying micro-dynamics. Based on this theoretical basis, the methodological approach of a “transition topology” is developed. The topology makes it possible to visualize and reconstruct institutional and organizational changes in their specific time-space context. The approach also makes apparent how institutional change is connected to organizational change at the regional level. In this way, it can be depicted how processes at the micro-level induce gradual changes in the regional path that lead to a more fundamental change at the macro-level over time. The topology allows for systematic comparisons between sustainability transitions in different regions. The conceptual and methodological approaches are applied in three empirical studies: a) an in-depth study of the micro-dynamics of regional sustainability transition in Augsburg (Germany), b) a comparison of the involvement of universities in regional sustainability transitions in Augsburg and Linz (Austria), and c) an investigation into the role of higher education institutions (HEIs) in regional sustainability transitions in Upper Austria. These studies are complemented by an analysis (based on a mixed-methods research design) of the motives of researchers for choosing a sustainability-related research topic. | iv All the studies shed light on the processes and dynamics that lead to the diversity of transition pathways across space (e.g., regarding their different pace, their thematic breath), which remained largely “hidden” in previous research on sustainability transitions. They highlight the role of valuedriven actors in regional sustainability transitions, who are often involved in several thematic fields at the same time and who are thus able to realize synergies. In particular, the relevance of new organizational forms for institutional change in regional sustainability transitions becomes apparent. While temporary organizational forms foster the development of sustainable social practices, more permanent organizations are important to stabilize these newly developed practices. The thesis makes an original contribution to the Geography of Sustainability Transitions on a conceptual, methodological and empirical level. It enables a better understanding of institutional dynamics in regional sustainability transitions and therefore generates a basis for promoting such processes in practice.
Physical Description:211 Pages
DOI:https://doi.org/10.17192/z2020.0045