The Effect Of Shocks On Sustainability Transitions

The role of exogenous shocks in influencing transition process is of significant interest to diverse literatures in Sustainability Science. Such events disturb and interrupt path dependent processes in ecological, economic, social, and technological systems. Sometimes this can lead to radical departures from existing trajectories and at other times existing systems can be more resilient, adapting or reconfiguring in response to a shock.

In this paper we explore the role that exogenous shocks can have on meso-level developments. We utilise the Multi-Level Perspective (MLP) to compare two archetypal exogenous shocks, World War II and the 1973 Oil crisis, and examine the effects these events had on the evolution of the transatlantic energy system. We build a framework from MLP literatures for addressing the role of shocks based around the dimensions of the timing dynamics of the shock, and directionality drawing on the contrasting perspectives of windows of opportunity and imprinting theories.

We examine two illustrative case studies that were formative exogenous events in the evolution of the transatlantic energy system: World War II and the 1973 oil crisis. We compare and contrast these two exogenous shocks and make propositions around the degree to which they exhibit dynamics of imprinting or windows of opportunity. We elucidate the different effects shocks can have, and the different mechanisms that can play a role in change processes following a shock with implications for prospective sustainability transitions.

Document Type:
Working paper

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