Panel 50

Technologies of Discontinuation. Towards Transformative Innovation Policies

Organizers: Stefan Kuhlmann

University of Twente, Netherlands, The

Topics: Ecological transitions and climate justice; Technoscientific promises, imaginaries and expectations; Sociotechnologies of (in)secure worlds to come; Innovation imaginaries, practices and policies

Keywords: discontinuation, socio-technical systems, governance, ecological transitions

This open special session/track is organised on the occasion of the launch of a book entitled “Technologies of Discontinuation - Towards Transformative Innovation Policies” (Spring 2023, Edward Elgar Publ.). The main authors will present key outputs of their research. Other authors working on related themes are invited to present their research, too.

Getting rid of incumbent socio-technical systems has become a pressing issue for governments as well as economic and societal actors, certainly since the 2020s. Climate change and accelerating global environmental devastation ask for fast abolition of unsustainable ways of energy production and consumption, of agriculture and food production, or of transportation (IPCC 2022). On top of this, since the last turn of century, the global economic and security architecture is dramatically changing in a way that suggests national governments to reduce dependence on international provision with natural resources (such as fossil fuels) and foreign technologies: countries feel the need to abandon vulnerable technological infrastructures and replace them by innovative, more sustainable “local” alternatives (e.g., Edler et al. 2021). So radical change is required. But how to do this?

In science, technology and innovation studies (STIS) little was known about how incumbent socio-technical regimes cease to exist when there are governance efforts to discontinue them in active ways. For a few years now, however, there has been an increase in research and publications that address this question or at least deal with general questions of the destabilisation of sociotechnical regimes (Turnheim 2012; Turnheim and Geels 2012, 2013; Stegmaier et. al. 2014; Koretsky et al. 2023; Goulet and Vinck 2023).

After a series of case studies carried out by the session organisers and by a growing international group of researchers, it is possible to sketch basic patterns and concrete case examples of actively governing the discontinuation of sociotechnical regimes in different countries and on different (organisational, state and supra-state) levels. Cases include the ban on the insecticide DDT in France, UK, and the USA, the phase-out of the incandescent light bulb in the EU, and the exit from nuclear energy in Germany compared with its almost-phase-out in UK.

There is evidence that the discontinuation of a sociotechnical regime and its governance becomes possible when a misalignment of problem, policy, and political streams opens up a ‘window of opportunity’. Various discontinuation pathways can be identified, including an Ending Pathway (‘phase-out’ and ‘ban’, incremental and abrupt misalignment and ultimately discontinuation of a trajectory), a Weakening Pathway (control, restriction, reduction), a Life-cycle Pathway (what is discontinued, gets replaced or disappears), and a Continuity Pathway (when discontinuation governance fails).