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Theorizing theories: Agency, structure and meaning in sociotechnical transitions


What theories or concepts are most useful at explaining socio-technical change? How can – or cannot – these be integrated? This presentation begins by explaining its research terms and methods before honing in on a combination of fourteen theories deemed most relevant and useful by the material. These are: Sociotechnical Transitions, Social Practice Theory, Discourse Theory, Domestication Theory, Large Technical Systems, Social Construction of Technology, Sociotechnical Imaginaries, Actor-Network Theory, Social Justice Theory, Sociology of Expectation, Sustainable Development, Values Beliefs Norms Theory, Lifestyle Theory, and the Unified Theory of Acceptance and Use of Technology. It then positions these theories in terms of two distinct typologies. Theories can be placed into five general categories of being centred on agency, structure, meaning, relations or norms. They can also be classified based on their assumptions and goals rooted in functionalism, interpretivism, humanism or conflict. The presentation lays out tips for research methodology before concluding with insights about technology itself, analytical processes associated with technology, and the framing and communication of results.  An interdisciplinary theoretical and conceptual inventory has much to offer students, analysts, and even scholars wanting to study technological change and society.


Benjamin SovacoolBenjamin Sovacool is Professor of Energy Policy, Director of the Sussex Energy Group, and Director of the Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), part of the School of Business, Management, and Economics at the University of Sussex.