Socio-technical Transitions and Practices: Insights into Environmental Sustainability

The multi-level analytical framework of socio-technical transitions promoted since the beginning of the 2000s (Grin, Rotmans and Schot 2011; Smith, Voß and Grin 2010; Geels 2002; 2011) has been recently brought into question by taking into consideration materiality, the dispersed and uneven distribution of agency and power, and the importance of (historical, spatial and political) context (Avelino et al. 2016). As pointed out by various criticisms, the multi-level perspective on socio-technical transitions often assumes a vertical trajectory, is too focused on institutions, and – methodologically – is based on secondary analyses of official data. By linking these criticisms with sustainability issues, moreover, inconsistencies and ambivalences emerge, as several contributions have shown especially in the renewable energy sector (e.g. Schreuer 2016; Scotti and Minervini 2016). This reminds us of the ambiguous meaning of the notion of ‘sustainability’ (Redclift 2005; Moneva, Archel and Correa 2006; Hornborg 2015; Rice 2007; Gottschlich and Bellina 2016). Furthermore, from a Science and Technology Studies (STS) perspective, Shove and Walker (2007; 2010) have suggested the need to reconsider the multi-level approach to socio-technical transitions by taking into account the practice level. This means to analyse, on the one hand, the mutual relationship between technologies and innovation paths; on the other, how these relate with practitioners.

In recent years, transition studies have actually turned to the practice theory approach, especially drawing on STS theoretical perspectives (Chilvers and Longhurst 2016), as well as on a renewed interest for the material components of innovation processes (Hoffman and Loeber 2015). In this framework, socio-technical transitions are regarded as the outcome of co-production processes simultaneously involving human and non-human actors.

Intensifying contaminations between the field of socio-technical transitions and the field of practices ask for a systematic reflection. This special issue of Tecnoscienza. The Italian Journal of Science & Technology Studies aims therefore to offer a venue for contributions addressing environmental sustainability by linking socio-technical transitions and practices. An STS perspective may in particular shed light on the role of non-human agency in co-shaping the everyday practices involved in the transition towards sustainability. Innovation experiences, for instance, may be both fostered and hindered by material elements or broad infrastructures in which local practices are embedded, and we need a better understanding of the factors leading to the one or the other outcome.

This special issue invites paper submissions including, but not limited to, the following themes: mobility; waste management; food production, consumption and supply; energy consumption and production.

Key research questions to be addressed include the following:

  • Are there competing (human/non-human) networks around a same sustainable transition goal? What shape do they take? Do they interact in some way?
  • What are the actants that play a role in a local network?
  • How can the issue of “path dependency” be explored through the lens of practices?
  • What are the practices that characterize a socio-technical transition process in a specific context (e.g. everyday mobility strategies; personal care; dietary choice and food consumption; heating)?

A further aim of the special issue is to include a variety of geographical and societal contexts. The link between growth and sustainability in socio-technical transitions implies several political consequences, in terms of Global North-South divide as well as at local level. For instance, governments – especially in the European Union – are engaged in promoting investments in the energy sector to pursue climate emissions reduction, yet the actual implementation of these efforts does not distribute benefits equitably among the territories involved in the process. Similarly, the dominant account of sustainability has a specific cultural connotation, since it originates in the Global North (Gottschlich and Bellina 2016). Therefore, cases from the Global South may enrich the reflection we wish to develop.

Deadline for abstract submissions: December 15th, 2017

Abstracts (in English) with a maximum length of 500 words should be sent as email attachments to and carbon copied to the guest editors. Notifications of acceptance will be communicated by January 2017. Full papers (in English with a maximum length of 8,000 words including notes and references) will be due by April 30th, 2018 and will be subject to a double-blind peer review process. The special issue is expected to be published in 2019.

For information and questions, please do not hesitate to contact the guest editors:

Paolo Giardullo,

Sonia Brondi,

Luigi Pellizzoni,

Weekly Energy News Update-December 3rd

I need to start this post off with a bit of xkcd and anthropological humor. The above picture made me imagine how great it would be if all anthropologists could agree to the validity of formstantivism: the average of the formalists and substantivists raised to the power of Marxism [or (F+S/2)^M for short] ;-p

I begin with a jest because I have some sad news. On Thursday, I start a few months of fieldwork including a bit of time behind the Great Firewall. Supposedly, VPNs are of little use anymore. It will be difficult to post let alone read any Energy news. If you see an important piece that you think should be given attention while I am on the road, please do send to Ultimately, news updates will be sporadic over the holiday season with some more regular updates in January and then sporadic again until mid-March. More soon! Here is this week’s update:



DOE mulls changes to appliance efficiency program (UtilityDive)


Sale of the century? $300-billion Saudi state sell-off moves slowly (Reuters)

Apparently this week Hong Kong made a final plug for hosting Aramaco’s IPO

Vietnam’s PV Oil plans Jan IPO that aims to raise at least $122 mln (Reuters)

Kenya plans $1 bln dual listing of National Oil Corp by early 2019 (Reuters)

What is with this rash of privatization going on in the global petroleum sector!

Norway’s wealth fund gives reasons for energy shares decision (Reuters)

On the other hand, despite the coming de-investment from oil and gas industry, Norway still owns 67% of Statoil and has no intention of selling that or preventing further exploration.

How Blockchains Will Help Connect Billions to Electricity and Financial Services (IEEE)

This connection between Blockchains and utilities has been popping up a lot lately in the media. I hope there is an anthropologist looking at this intersection of economy, energy and technology!

China in ‘final sprint’ to introduce crude oil futures (Reuters)

Shell, to Cut Carbon Output, Will Be Less of an Oil Company (NYTimes)


Battery Storage Will Offer Grid Support as Puerto Rico Recovers (IEEE)

Sweden needs to further add power capacity or face shortages (Reuters)

New York energy storage target official after Gov. Cuomo signs bill (UtilityDive)

Tanzania restores power in parts of country after nationwide outage (Reuters)

Blackout risk eases for Australian summer, market operator says (Reuters)

Maharashtra power utility detects 269 cases of power theft in special drive (India Times)


Women’s average pay at Shell in UK a fifth less than men’s (Reuters)

Inpex halts construction at Australian LNG site after worker dies (Reuters)


Denmark passes law that could ban Russian pipeline from going through its waters (Reuters)

Climate activists delay U.S. gas pipeline approvals (Reuters)

TransCanada engages Nebraska landowners on new Keystone XL route (Reuters)

Just FYI the original Keystone pipeline began operation again on Tuesday

Canada backs Kinder Morgan pipeline appeal as related hearings start (Reuters)

Calif. energy agencies express concern over natgas pipeline outages (Reuters)


The GOP Tax Bill Could Forever Alter Alaska’s Indigenous Tribes (Atlantic)

German court paves way for Peruvian farmer’s suit against RWE (Reuters)

There is currently a similar suit here in Norway that is leveraging an article in the Constitution because drilling in the Arctic violates the right to a healthy environment.

Trump’s First Major Trade Fight With China Could Be Over Solar Panels (NYTimes)

What we talk about when we talk about resilience (UtilityDive)

After years of following how this concept has been defined in ecology and environmental management, it is fascinating to see how it is now being debated within energy policy circles.

Pleas to flee, a desperate video: Inside Venezuela’s oil industry purge (Reuters)

OPEC, Russia have done their bit, now it’s the turn of U.S., China (Reuters)


Energy Idea for Mars Yields a Clue for Powering Data Centers (NYTimes)

Modular Power Blocks Snap Together to Scale Up Energy Needs in Remote Areas (IEEE)


S.Korea’s SK Innovation to build EV battery plant in Hungary (Reuters)

Cobalt, the heart of darkness in the shiny electric vehicle story (Reuters)

Automakers pledge ethical minerals sourcing for electric cars (Reuters)

That was quick work after the release of the above story. PR departments must have had some of this material prepared far in advance.


U.S. ethanol makers call on Mexico, India to reduce biofuel glut (Reuters)

Score One for Corn: In Battle Over Biofuel, a Rare Setback for Big Oil (NYTimes)

In growing algae for biofuels, it matters who used the water last (The Conversation)


S.Africa’s Hendrina power station may not have adequate coal, no load shedding seen (Reuters)

West’s largest coal plant to stay open through 2019 with new approval (UtilityDive)

Greece finalises deal with lenders over coal-fired plants (Reuters)

Georgia to build natural gas storage, coal-fired power plant (Reuters)

We could use old coal mines to decarbonise heat – here’s how (The Conversation)

China underscores push toward longer term coal contracts (Reuters)

China state-backed explosives maker to buy affiliated coal miner for $3.1 billion (Reuters)

Adani hopes for govt coal mine loan fade after Australian election (Reuters)

We Energies’ coal-fired power plant in Pleasant Prairie to be shut down in 2018 (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

EPA Hosts the Beginning of the End of the Clean Power Plan in Coal Country  (Intercept)

U.S. repeal of carbon rule criticized in coal country (Reuters)

India to start building ultra supercritical thermal plant in 2019 (India Times)


As gas heating demand soars, China’s Hebei warns of shortages (Reuters)

I have actually been hearing of shortages for over a week now in Chinese media. I have also heard of complaints that the gas heaters are not keeping residential areas as warm as the coal did  in the past. Stay tuned for a first hand account in a few months…

State oil companies to add 5,000 distributors for LPG by 2019 (India Times)

Maersk Oil, partners to invest $3.4 billion in Denmark’s North Sea gas (AP)

R-Power inks agreement for Bangladesh power plant, LNG terminal (IANS)

Shell, PetroChina jv paves way toward big gas development in Australia (Reuters)


Peru’s San Gaban project receives Chinese cash infusion (HydroWorld)

Andhra Pradesh Cabinet approves Polavaram Hydro power project (India Times)

AfDB loaning €150 million for development of 420-MW Nachtigal hydro in Cameroon (HydroWorld)

Small hydro acquisition in Italy includes future and existing plants (HydroWorld)


Austrian parties plan to use Brexit to reopen EU nuclear power pact (Reuters)


Pressured for profit, oil majors bet big on shale technology (Reuters)

Mexico’s Pemex declares force majeure on Isthmus crude oil (Reuters)

Trump administration permits ENI to drill for oil off Alaska (Reuters)


A tale of 2 states: Massachusetts and California provide different lessons on growing community solar (UtilityDive)

Macron makes renewable energy push in power-starved Africa (Reuters)


Developer abandons plans for long-stalled Cape Cod wind farm (AP)

Vattenfall places large offshore wind power order with Siemens Gamesa (Reuters)

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