The Second Big Transition or the Struggle for Inclusive Capitalism

Prof. Johan Schot, SPRU (Science Policy Research Unit), University of Sussex

Transition are long term processes with the basic understanding that they take at least fifty years, and encompass entire societies and economies. Many innovation studies focus, however, on the short term and individual cases, or subsystems, such as mobility, energy, food provision systems. This is also true for the transition theory I am involved in developing: Multi-level Perspective (MLP).

There are sound theoretical and practical reasons for a focus on individual cases or subsystems, yet it is also true that a sustainability transition ultimately does not need a change in one system, but a much broader change in many systems. In my presentation I refer to this change of multiple systems as a Big Transition. A main question then becomes how can we characterize and conceptualize a Big Transition? Here we can learn from work of Freeman and Perez. Their work moves beyond the level of individual innovations or systems and takes a genuine long term historical perspective. Based on their work, I would like to propose the following hypotheses:
• Changes in individual food, mobility, energy, water, healthcare and other regimes are not random They interconnect or cluster. This means that changes in one socio-technical regime tends to induce or require changes in other sociotechnical regimes.
• This inducement is never automatic; it depends on the emergence of a carrier (or nexus). The carrier is a meta-regime or meta-rule set (Perez calls this the techno-economic paradigm) which is shared among several regimes and provide common orientation and direction. Examples of overlapping and partly conflicting meta-rule sets from the past are mechanization, flexible specialization, centralization, cooperation, mass production, mass consumption, public utility, specialisation, vertical integration, decentralization and standardization.
• These meta-regimes or rule sets have the capacity to co-produce what is called in MLP new sociotechnical landscape trends such as individualisation, globalisation and urbanisation which then become gradients for action in many regimes.
• The first Big Transition from Commercial to Industrial Capitalism went through four phases:
• Inventing Mass-production and consumption, from 1750-1914
• Contesting Mass-production and consumption, from 1914-1945
• Heyday of Mass-production and consumption from 1945-1970
• Flexible Specialisation from 1970 until today.
In this last phase we also enter the period in which the Second Big Transition begins, which entails a struggle between various forms of capitalism, from more brutal to more inclusive ones. If we were to drift towards the latter option, the Second Big Transition will be built around new rule sets and practices that are fundamentally different from the ones of the First Big Transition. This next transition is likely to be shaped by concepts and characteristics such as diversity, durability, recycling, circular economies, participation, and sharing.
I will end my presentation arguing that the innovation is not only a crucial site for enabling the Second Big Transition, but I expect that the innovation process itself will be transformed. In particular, the idea that innovation should be stimulated and its undesirable impacts on people, nature, and society should be regulated through the state will be questioned and rightly so. We need new institutions that are able to give this Big Transition direction. The big question is how and which institutions do we need?

About the speaker
Johan Schot is Director of SPRU, Professor in History of Technology and Sustainability Transitions, University of Sussex. In 2009 Johan Schot was elected to the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). He integrates social science and history perspectives from the vantage point of socio-technical change. His research focuses on: 1) The origins, nature and outcomes of radical and long term sociotechnical change 2) The history and governance of transnational infrastructures 3) The development of a new transnational European history through the lens of technology.

Venue: Conference Room

Date: 08 October 2014

Time: 12:30 - 13:30


UNU-MERIT