2. Transition Research and the Spatial Dimension
2.1. Transitions to Sustainable Developments—Goals, Concepts and Methodologies
- The roots of transition research lay in socio-technical understanding, the analysis of socio-technical niches and innovation diffusion. The need for socio-technical understanding often starts from new technologically feasible solutions in infrastructure and technologies, such as in the energy or mobility sectors, whose implementation strategies lack a sociological perspective. From an economic approach, it is often argued that innovation needs protected spaces in the “interplay between incumbent regime structures, external landscape pressures and emerging niches”  (p. 610),  (p. 91).
- In terms of disciplines, the socio-institutional approach is based on a wide range of scientific knowledge from economics, law, political science and geography. Research fields are manifold, dealing with actor network theories and questions of governance, discursive approaches and questions of power or research about innovation patterns  (p. 90), . These approaches “identify institutionalized cultures, structures and practices as regimes in which transitional change takes place”  (p. 610). Existing empirical studies are mostly individual cases of specific sectors or geographical areas with certain problems. A recent shift toward this socio-institutional approach can be observed, especially in combination with the innovative capacity of niches in dominant regimes .
- Socio-ecological thinking frames transitions within planetary boundaries and the global resilience discussion. Influenced by a more biological, nature-conservative approach, it “examines the way in which this context pushes ecosystems beyond tipping points and planetary boundaries”  (p. 612).
- Analytical studies “seeks to understand the role of societal forms of agency at different levels and how they might interact with institutional and policy change”  (pp. 615, 616). In general, analytical approaches describe the status quo in specific research perspectives, in order to (analytically) understand transition processes in specific cases. Conceptual frameworks corresponding to analytical studies are multi-level perspective (MLP) and social niche management (SNM).
- Evaluative studies aim to understand how transition-oriented policies are set in place and valuate the efficiency and effectiveness of different governance arrangements. “This research deepens our understanding of the role of policy in sustaining existing regimes and advancing sustainability transitions”  (p. 616). While analytical studies aim to understand the present situation, evaluative studies are aimed at resuming past activities and discovering their impact on sustainability transitions. The corresponding conceptual framework for evaluative studies is the technological innovations system (TIS).
- The third epistemological perspective is an experimental one, an approach to check the range of transition research under real-time conditions. “The core idea is that through experiments with new technologies and new socio-technical arrangements, processes of coevolution can be stimulated”  (p. 617). Methods such as transitions arenas, scenarios and labs are used to create an open learning atmosphere to test every sort of innovation. The approaches of transition management (TM) or social niche management (SNM) are examples of corresponding conceptual frameworks.
2.2. Transition Research and the (Missing) Spatial Context
2.3. Exploring Spatial Contexts: Concepts and Approaches
3. Conceptual Perspectives for a Deeper Understanding of Spatial Transitions Toward Sustainability
3.1. Linking Sustainable Transition Approaches and Spatial Conceptualizations to Each Other
3.2. Conceptual Perspectives to Emphasize Spatial Conceptualization in Transition Research
3.2.1. Space as a “Bridging Concept”
- Both concepts focus on intentionally designed processes to bring about (socially desired) change. In terms of transition theories, emphasis is put on the adoption of socio-technical innovations, especially those developing out of niches; with regard to (physical) spaces, it is urban or regional planning that determines the different land uses, settlement structures, etc. from a sovereign perspective (city administration as institution). There, these two perspectives on intended change can easily be integrated from a grassroots-level development to an intended change out of public institutions. Additionally, both approaches are following integrated and comprehensive perspectives.
- Both transition processes and urban or regional development processes have a long-term orientation. While transition research emphasizes a co-evaluative development where change can neither be steered nor foreseen, spatial planning focuses more on the steering of intended change and prevention of undesired incidents. This future orientation also means that solution approaches and strategies often are non-linear (uncertain), due to social or environmental changes as well as the complex and interrelated challenges that sustainability transitions and spatial conceptualizations face.
- Both theoretical approaches offer actor-centred approaches and actor collaborations on different spatial levels. These approaches follow the premise that actions are always based on values, power relations, norms and the complex interactions between different actors and actor groups, value driven interests and demands concerning time and space that make transitions possible and real. In this regard, transition processes as well as space can always be seen as result of a negotiation process of a given society. For more detail, multi-level and multi-scalar perspectives are used in both approaches, making it possible to combine them.
3.2.2. Space as a “Normative Concept”
3.2.3. Space as an “Approach to Action”
4.1. Paradigmatic Consequences
4.2. Epistemological Consequences
4.3. Methodological and Methodical Consequences
Conflicts of Interest
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|Euclidian Geometrical Space||Social Space|
|Space as …||Container||Relational||Social|
|Space as research subject||physical||socio-physical||socio-cultural|
|Space as epistemological perspective||‘natural’ environments||Nature Cultures||social relations|
|Space as research concept||naturalistic||dialectic or hybrid||socio-centric|
|from the outside to the inside||as inter-relations between inside and outside||from the inside to the outside|
|Related disciplines||- (neo-classical) economics|
- natural and technical sciences
- urban and regional planning
|- social and cultural sciences|
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