Shape it until you make it: A conceptual foundation for efforts to analyze and shape technological innovation
Abstract: These are times of accelerating climate change and mass extinction of species on planet Earth. We are in the midst of an ecological crisis that will have profound consequences for human society and its natural environment. While the conditions for life have changed abruptly in the past, the current situation is characterized by the increasing power of a single species. Human beings are not only to blame for the unsustainable practices that brought us here, but also capable of harnessing their combined ingenuity to develop technology that may reduce environmental impacts and provide additional benefits for society. At the same time, the answer to the ecological crisis and other grand challenges is not found in the blind expansion of new technologies. Our success in accomplishing social and environmental objectives rather depends on how, where and when innovation influences patterns of production and consumption. This calls into question the focus of academics and policymakers on stimulating technological innovation. And it highlights the need for analytical tools that can be used to explore how policymakers and other actors may shape the direction of change. The research presented in this thesis therefore aims to develop a conceptual foundation for analyzing and shaping technological innovation. This effort draws on three qualitative case studies that investigate emerging renewable energy technologies from a Swedish perspective. The thesis is situated in the sustainability transitions research community and takes the literature on technological innovation systems as a theoretical point of departure. However, the research adopts a critical perspective and gradually departs from the core concepts used in this literature, over the course of a learning process that unfolds in five appended research papers. In the end, the thesis proposes the technological systems framework as a set of concepts that offers a multidimensional perspective on the dynamics and outcomes of technological innovation. It also presents empirical findings that demonstrate different development trajectories, reveal some of their underlying dynamics and highlight policy implications. This will hopefully contribute to an ongoing shift in academia and politics – from stimulating the expansion of new technologies, to shaping the direction of change.
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