STEPS Working Paper No.8

Social-ecological resilience and socio-technical transitions: critical issues for sustainability governance

Published on 28 June 2022

Technology contributes both positively and negatively to the resilience of ‘social-ecological systems’, but is not considered in depth in that literature. A technology-focused literature on sociotechnical transitions shares some of the complex adaptive systems sensibilities of social-ecological systems research. It is considered by others to provide a bridging opportunity to share lessons concerning the governance of both.

We contend that lessons must not be restricted to advocacy of flexible, learning-oriented approaches, but must also be open to the critical challenges that confront these approaches. Here, we focus on the critical lessons arising from reactions to a ‘transition management’ approach to governing transitions to sustainable socio-technical regimes. Moreover, we suggest it is important to bear in mind the different problems each literature addresses, and be cautious about transposing lessons between the two. Nevertheless, questions for transition management about who governs, whose system framings count, and whose sustainability gets prioritised are pertinent to social-ecological systems research. They suggest an agenda that explores critically the kinds of resilience that are helpful or unhelpful, and for whom, and with what social purposes in mind.

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Smith, A. and Stirling, A. (2008) Social-ecological resilience and sociotechnical transitions: critical issues for sustainability governance, STEPS Working Paper 8, Brighton: STEPS Centre

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