The Geography of
Sustainability Transitions:
A Literature Review
Teis Hansen and Lars Coenen
CIRCLE, Lund University
Core GoST research agenda
Understand whether and why transition
trajectories unfold unevenly across space
 Analyze how the spatial dimensions of
networks (local-global) influence transitions
processes
 Analyze the governance of transitions at
and across different scales

Purpose of review

Overview of research on GoST
How is space conceptualized in GoST
literature?
 Which empirical and theoretical insights
have been achieved so far?
 Which areas should be further developed in
the future?

Spaces and niches

Metaphorical use of geographical concepts
in much niche literature
 Unclear/unmotivated why ’spaces’
 Unnecessary confusion & relegation of
niche creation and development in
spaces
Purpose of review

Overview of research on GoST
How is space conceptualized in GoST
literature?
 Which empirical and theoretical insights
have been achieved so far?
 Which areas should be further developed in
the future?

Space in geography
“Trying to think clearly about space is not easy.” (Dainton, 2001, p. X)
Positivist geography: space as an empty
container
 Relational turn: space is constructed
through social relations between actors
 Evolutionary turn: space is neither fully fixed
nor fully fluid

(1) the importance of geographical
context
(2) the role of spatial linkages
Geographical context

Urban and regional visions and priorities (e.g.
Hodson and Marvin, 2009)

Informal territorial institutions (e.g. Coenen, Benneworth, and
Truffer, 2012)

Local natural resource endowments
(e.g. Späth and
Rohracher, 2012)



Local technological and industrial
specialization (e.g. Carvalho, Mingardo, and Van Haaren, 2012)
Localized knowledge spillovers (e.g. Essletzbichler, 2012)
Consumers and local market formation (e.g. Dewald
and Truffer, 2012)
Geographical context – future
research areas
1) Neglected topics. In particular local market
formation
2) When and under which conditions are the
different contextual dimensions important for
sustainability transitions?
“In situations where tacit knowledge is important, institutions [in their broadest
sense as recurrent patterns of rules, behavior, habits, conventions, and routines
(see Morgan, 1997)] are more than mere aggregate results of conscious
decisions of individual actors. Institutions are able to stabilize, transmit, and
contain tacit knowledge in communities of actors (be it sectors or regions).”
(Truffer, 2008; 969)
Geographical context – future
research areas
1) Neglected topics. In particular local market
formation
2) When and under which conditions are the
different contextual dimensions important for
sustainability transitions?
3) The changing role of the urban and regional
levels
Scale in inter-organisational
linkages
Two main approaches:
(1) Studies with a traditional economic geography
focus, stressing the positive influence of
geographical proximity in stimulating network
formation
(2) Studies which draw heavily on the relational
approach, highlighting that space is socially defined
Scale in inter-organisational
linkages – future research areas
1) Further explore the role of relations at various
scales for transition processes
2) The importance of geographical proximity for
linkages between agents at different levels in the
multilevel framework
Back to space and niches…




Niche experiments: large cognitive distance between actors
Potentially compensated by:
 Social proximity (trust)
 Geographical proximity (F2F)
 Institutional proximity (norms, values)
While small-scaleness runs risk of:
 Myopia & lock-in
 Limitations to diffusion
Niche development: struggle to resolve proximity paradox?
 Can different forms of proximity compensate for each other? (substitution
effect)
 Are niches at a global scale possible and if so on what dimensions?
 Are global niches too internally inconsistent?
GoST results so far…
What has ST gained from linking up with
geography?
Move beyond the nation state
 Understand how global linkages materialize
 No one size fits all!

Thank you!
[email protected]
[email protected]
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