ETH, STP

Geels’ Technological Transitions and System Innovations

Technological transitions and system innovations: A Co-Evolutionary and Socio-Technical Analysis(Geels, 2004)is a mandatory reading of the core course Bridging Science, Technology and policy. The book analyses how technological changes transform societal functions such as transport, communication, housing and energy supply. According to Geels social and technological aspects are always intertwined and constitute each other. The book claims an interdisciplinary background in its qualitative work where (at least) evolutionary economics, innovation studies(Godin, 2012), sociology of technology, and complex system theory come together.

Summary

The focus of the book is to explain transitions from one socio-technological system to another. Specifically, it address the impact of technology beyond its product and process innovations and into the realm of societal functions. Only human agency, social structure and organisations provide technological artefacts with purpose. Artefacts exist within a specific context which needs to be understood to fully understand an artefact.

A technological revolution (e.g. the development of the car) is a major transition in a socio-technological system. The transition often leads into a more complex system and often different technologies co-evolve (roads, fuels, engines, etc.) to produce the technological revolution. It also required new policies (side of driving, driving permits, speed limits, fuel taxes, etc., but also fuel stations, fuel acquisition) which often respond to the technical revolution. The set of policies is increasing in complexity over time as more requirements emerge in response to previous policies. Technological revolution is often socially resisted and changes the social landscape. The car was considered too fast in the beginning and later on became a status symbol.

Fridges and laundry machines emerged only in the mid 20th century. They reduced the work load on women and enabled them to start working as less manual work was needed in house holds. The emancipation of women (a landscape development) was a social driver (of the socio-technical regime) but also beneficiary of the technological development (the technological niche).

The main argument of the book is “that technologies emerge in little bits and pieces and humans start to combine them. Some survive and some disappear. Those who survive drive social change and eventually reshape the society.”

References

Geels, F. W. (2004). Technological Transitions and System Innovations. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing.
Godin, B. (2012). “Innovation Studies”: The invention of a Specialty. Minerva, 50(4), 397–421. http://doi.org/10.1007/s11024-012-9212-8

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