Industrial societies contain a range of socio-technical systems fulfilling functions such as the provision of energy, food, mobility, housing, healthcare, finance and communications. The recent Deep Transitions (DT) framework outlines a series of propositions on how the multi-system co-evolution over 250 years of these systems has contributed to several current social and ecological crises. Drawing on evolutionary institutionalism, the DT framework places a special emphasis on the concepts of ‘rules’ and ‘meta-rules’ as coordination mechanisms within and across socio-technical systems.
In this paper, we employ a mixed-method approach to provide an empirical assessment of the propositions of the DT framework. We focus on the historical evolution of mass production from the 18th century to the present. Combining a qualitative narrative based on a synthesis of secondary historical literature with a quantitative text mining-based analysis of the corpus of Scientific American (1845–2019), we map the emergence and alignment of rules underpinning mass production. Our study concludes by reflecting on important methodological lessons for the application of text mining techniques to examine large-scale and long-term socio-technical dynamics.
• We develop a novel mixed-method approach for studying the evolution of rules.
• Evolution of mass production confirms the propositions of Deep Transitions theory.
• Crisis of a mature meta-regime stimulates its internal transformation.
• Text mining shows promise for the study of complex long-term multi-system change.