The Deep Transitions research project consists of two project phases: Deep Transitions History and Deep Transitions Futures. Beginning with the onset of the Industrial Revolution, Deep Transitions History uncovered the rules, actors, values and external influences that have accelerated surges of change over the past 250 years to create the ‘modernity’ we know today. It diagnosed the subsequent ills from a socio-technical systems perspective.
Socio-technical systems are those integrated infrastructures that provide us with food, mobility, energy, education, healthcare and finance. Currently, these systems embrace fossil fuels, linear wasteful production, mass-production and consumption. By their very design they have contributed to resource depletion, pollution, environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity and climate change, all combined with furthering and exacerbating inequalities Through untangling the very foundations of industrial societies, Deep Transitions History opened the door to rethinking them, a key step towards addressing these problems.
Professor Johan Schot, who together with Dr. Laur Kanger co-authored the founding papers of the Deep Transitions research project, 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:
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.
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.