The theory behind how societies change over time, and what compels these changes, must be explored to understand the future. Deep Transitions theory and this research project seeks to make sense of what has happened in the past to understand trends towards the Second Deep Transition, the Sustainability Revolution.  While Sustainability Transitions along with Transformative Innovation Policy (TIP) theory and practice, enables reflection on these future transformations. 

What are Deep Transitions?

Professor Johan Schot, coauthor with Dr. Laur Kanger, the Deep Transitions research project founding papers, and is a pioneer within Transitions Studies, defines Deep Transitions as “a series of connected individual transitions in a wide range of socio- technical systems.”  

These connected transitions interrelate and interdepend to inform a series of rules and meta-rules shared amongst different socio-technical systems that in turn provide the backbone of contemporary societies.

A series of transitions can be defined as one “Deep Transition” when they meet a three-point criteria:

  1. That the related transitions change an already established and embedded set of meta-rules within existing socio-technical systems
  2. That the changing of these meta-rules inform a new phase in the history of industrialisation, modernity or industrial consumption
  3. That the transition and shift to a new phase is a gradual process taking longer than a century

What is the first Deep Transition?

The First Deep Transition is the transition that led to industrial modernity and informs all of our current socio-techno systems today. The First Deep Transition evolved across five “great surges of development”, that can be thought of as separate technological revolutions. This begins with the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s and continues across history until the adoption of information systems and telecommunications in the 1970s.

The unfolding of this industrial progress has informed the socio-technical systems that create our contemporary societies.

The First Deep Transition has led to great industrial progress, and the age of “modernity” as we know it. It has created great wealth. With it, however, have come new, complex problems and challenges, known as “wicked problems”. Most notably, industrial consumption and production has led to growing inequality and poverty across the globe, while the fundamental change in our planet has left us with the consequences of unprecedented climate change and inequality of resource distribution.

What is the second Deep Transition, and how does it relate to the idea of sustainability transitions?

It is some scholars’ belief that we are currently in the Second Deep Transition, which has manifested as a fundamental re-ordering of the First Deep Transition as a response to the problems created by modernisation. Beginning in the 1970s, we have witnessed a growing comprehension amongst key actors (governments, international organisations, businesses, and NGOs) that any future industrial progress must be sustainable in that it provides wealth and economic growth to all without exceeding our environment’s limits. This has led to policies and initiatives directly tackling the issues of climate change and inequality, with the most notable recent initiative being the wide-scale acceptance of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.