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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|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
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|