Breaking the Rules! Energy Transitions as Social Innovations

The Leibniz Research Alliance is hosting an international conference entitled “Breaking the Rules! Energy Transitions as Social Innovations” that will take place on June 14th – 15th, 2018, at WZB Berlin Social Science Center.

The transformation of energy systems has profound implications for the ways in which our societies are organized, and must therefore be understood as process of social change and social innovation. In many ways, energy systems structure our economies and mirror our attitudes and values regarding the definition of public goods, of justice, and of equity. The transition from one system to another calls these habits, values, practices, and norms into question, and replaces them with others, in a process that is necessarily conflictive and that may surpass our traditional (educationally formed) knowledge and understanding of energy. Among others, energy transitions challenge our basic understanding of what energy means for our everyday lives, where and by whom it should be produced, and how it should be distributed and traded. The range of possible transition pathways is spurring the imagination and the creativity of individual entrepreneurs, large companies, collectives, utilities, and many more. At the same time, these highly innovative dynamics are being resisted by incumbents and increasingly also by local protest groups.

The conference invites international scholars to discuss social innovations in the context of energy transitions, and to spark a debate about their meaning for theories of social innovation, for questions of energy governance, for the evolution of social energy innovations and how they challenge existing power structures in the energy sector. The conference is guided by four overarching themes, each of which will be explored in at least two conference sessions.

For a detailed overview of conference themes, sessions and session convenors please click here.


  • Theorizing social energy innovations
  • Governing social energy innovations
  • Drivers and obstacles to social energy innovations
  • Transforming existin gpower structures through social energy innovations


  • Politicizing clean energy transitions: transformative politics and the popularization of social innovations
  • Social innovations in energy transition through transdisciplinary research
  • Governing urban innovations in energy and climate governance: closing the gap between leaders and laggards
  • Real life experiments as a governing tool for social innovations in the energy sector
  • Digitized energy transitions and social change
  • Backward oriented social innovations: How populist movements can stop clean energy transitions
  • Enabling citizens to engage in energy-related decision-making processes: The role of education, participation and ownership for a successful energy transition
  • Subsurface energy – challenges, constraints, acceptance

We invite paper presentations that either

  • explore one of the broader conference themes, or
  • relate to one of the specific conference sessions.

Abstracts should not exceed 500 words, and must be submitted in English language to Leslie Quitzow by March 1st, 2018 ( & CC session convenor). Please be sure to include your name, institution, and the name of the conference session that you are applying for. Please direct all questions regarding the session design, presentation format, expected content etc. to the session convenor. Questions regarding overall conference organization may be directed to Leslie Quitzow.

Successful applicants will be notified by March 15th, 2018. Presenters will also be invited to submit their full papers after the conference for possible publication in a special issue in a peer-reviewed journal (the journal will be announced in March). Those interested in participating in this process are asked to submit their full papers by July 15th, 2018 for review (one month after the conference). The special issue will be published in mid-2019.

For any further organizational questions, please also contact Leslie Quitzow.

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,

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