PhD Course

Theories of Sustainable Transitions

Aalborg University, Copenhagen Campus


Date: May 20-22

Room:  ACM15 2.1.043

Address: A C Meyers Vænge 15, Copenhagen SV 2450 (this is Aalborg University’s main building in the Copenhagen campus)

Coordinators: Andrés Valderrama and Ulrik Jørgensen

Contact at:

Course fee: TBA (probably 500 dkk)

Credits: 5 ECTS with paper (2,5 for without a paper)

Registration: please create enrol at Aalborg University’s PhD moodle at TBA



There is a growing community of scholars dedicated to the study of how to study and support the necessary technical and social transformations to achieve sustainability. This is what is defined as transitions to sustainability or sustainable transitions. This course is an introduction to the four main theories in the field and to some of the cross cutting discussions within the community. This PhD course is intended for students conducting research related to analysis, design and innovation processes for the needed transformations to achieve sustainability goals. The teachers of the course will offer advanced discussion in theories of transitions and will illustrate their theoretical work through case studies conducted in various places including Holland, Denmark, the United Kingdom, India and Colombia. These case studies range from local community based initiatives, to city projects to country and regional programs for sustainability. International collaboration efforts will also be discussed.


Teaching team:

 Rob Raven, Professor,

Inge Røpke, Professor, CDIST Aalborg University Copenhagen

Jens Stissing Jensen, Postdoc, CDIST Aalborg University Copenhagen

Ulrik Jørgensen, Professor, CDIST Aalborg University Copenhagen

Andrés Valderrama, Postdoc, CDIST Aalborg University Copenhagen

Chiara Frantini, Postdoc, CDIST Aalborg University Copenhagen



At the end of this course the students would be able to:

  1. Explain how their own project and ideas relate to state of the art discussions in transitions theories (MLP; TIS; AOD; Practice Theory)
  2. Describe the main challenges and efforts in relation to space, urban developments and geography.
  3. Describe the main governance challenges and advancements in relation to governance theories to achieve sustainable transitions.


Activity timeline:

Students should:

  1. Enrol in the course by 15 May 2015 at TBA
  2. Deliver a one-page description of their project by 20 of April 2015 (or right after enrolment). Please be clear about what are the questions of your research project and in what ways you imagine that the transitions theories might be supportive.
  3. Deliver by the 15th of May 2015 a three-page analysis of how their project relates to the course. In what ways does the literature help the project? In what ways does the project serves as a basis to criticize the literature?
  4. Make a presentation during the course in order to get feedback from the teachers. The aim of the presentation is that students test their ideas of how the theories of transitions might be supportive of their project. (This is optional but strongly recommended)
  5. Deliver by the 22nd of June 2015 a 10 page paper with the full elaboration of their ideas. Ideally this exercise should support the students’ progress in their PhD either by advancing her state of the art review, a chapter, an article or any kind of structured idea.


In short:

Deadline for enrolment: 20 May 2015

Deadline for project paper: 20 of April 2015 (or right after enrolment)

Preparatory reading and writing: 1 April – 15 May 2015

Deadline for preliminary analysis: 15 May 2015

Meetings: 20-22 May (3 full days)

Delivery of a 10 page paper: 22 June 2015




At the end of this course the students will be able to:




This reading list is recommended. Students are free to replace these readings with others they might consider more pertinent. The objective however is that students should mature their theoretical take on their project through the course.


Explain how their own project and ideas relate to state of the art discussions in transitions theories (MLP; TIS; AOD; Practice Theory)




Smith, A., Voss, J-P, Grin, J., 2010. Innovation studies and sustainability transitions: the allure of the multi-level perspective and its challenges. Research Policy. 39, 435-448


Geels, F.W., 2002. Technological transitions as evolutionary reconfiguration processes: a multi-level perspective and a case study. Research Policy. 31, 1257-1274


Schot, J.W., Geels, F.W., 2008. Strategic Niche Management and sustainable innovation journeys: theory, findings, research agenda and policy. Technology Analysis & Strategic Management. 20(5), 537-554


Smith, A., Raven, R.P.J.M., 2012. Towards a theory of niche protection in transitions to sustainability. Research Policy. 41, 1025-1036

Geels, F.W., 2011. The multi-level perspective on sustainability transitions: Reponses to seven criticisms. Environmental Innovation & Societal Transitions. 1, 24-40


Geels, F.W. and Schot, J.W., 2007, ‘Typology of sociotechnical transition pathways', Research Policy, 36(3), 399-417

Geels, F.W. and R.P.J.M. Raven, 2006, ‘Non-linearity and expectations in niche-development trajectories: Ups and downs in Dutch biogas development (1973-2003)’, Technology Analysis & Strategic Management, 18(3/4), 375-392




Bergek, A., Jacobsson, S., Carlsson, B., Lindmark, S. and Rickne, A., 2008, ‘Analyzing the functional dynamics of technological innovation systems: A scheme of analysis’, Research Policy, 37(3), 407-429


Hekkert, M.P., Suurs, R.A.A., Negro, S.O., Kuhlmann, S., and Smits, R.E.H.M., 2007, 'Functions of innovation systems: A new approach for analysing technological change', Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 74(4), 413-432


Jacobsson, S. and Bergek, A., 2011, ‘Innovation system analyses and sustainability transitions: Contributions and suggestions for research’, Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, 1(1), 41-57


Markard, J., Truffer, B., 2008, ‘Technological innovation systems and the multi-level perspective: towards an integrated framework’, Research Policy, 37(4), 596-615


Practice theory


Shove, E., Walker, G., 2010. Governing transitions in the sustainability of everyday life. Research Policy. 39, 471-476


Røpke, I. 2009, "Theories of practice - New inspiration for ecological economic studies on consumption", Ecological Economics, vol. 68, no. 10, pp. 2490-2497.


Shove, E. 2012, "Energy transitions in practice: the case of global indoor climate change" in Governing the Energy Transition. Reality, Illusion or Necessity?, eds. G. Verbong & D. Loorbach, Routledge, London and New York, pp. 51-74.


Watson, Matt (2013): Building future systems of velomobility. In: Elizabeth Shove and Nicola Spurling (Eds.): Sustainable Practices. Social Theory and Climate Change. Routledge, 2013.


Arenas of Development


Jørgensen, U. (2012). Mapping and navigating transitions—The multi-level perspective compared with arenas of development. Research Policy.


Valderrama, A. and Jørgensen, U. (forthcoming 2015) Creating Copenhagen’s Metro – on the role in transitions of protected spaces and arenas, Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions.


Philipp Spaeth & Harald Rohracher (Forthcoming) Conflicting strategies towards sustainable heating at an urban junction of heat infrastructure and building standards, Energy Policy

Describe the main challenges and efforts in relation to space, urban developments and geography.



Bulkeley, Harriet, and Michele Betsill. "Rethinking sustainable cities: multilevel governance and the 'urban'politics of climate change." Environmental Politics 14.1 (2005): 42-63.


Coenen, L., Benneworth, P., Truffer, B., 2012, ‘Towards a spatial perspective on sustainability transitions’, Research Policy, 41(6), 968-979


Raven, R.P.J.M., Schot, J.W., Berkhout, F., 2012. Space and scale in socio-technical transitions. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions. 4, 63-78


Sengers, F., Raven, R.P.J.M., 2014. Metering Motorbike Mobility: informal transport in transition? Technology Analysis and Strategic Management. DOI: 10.1080/09537325.2013.870991


Verbong, G.P.J., Christiaens, W., Raven, R.P.J.M., Balkema, A. 2010. Strategic Niche Management in an unstable regime. Environmental Science & Policy. 13, 272-281


Smith, A., Kern, F., Raven, R.P.J.M., Verhees, B., 2013. Spaces for sustainable innovation: solar photovoltaic electricity in the UK. Technological Forecasting & Social Change. 81, 115-130


Verhees, B., Raven, R.P.J.M., Veraart, F., Smith, A., Kern, F., 2013. The development of solar PV in the Netherlands: a case of survival in unfriendly contexts. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews. 19, 275-289


Describe the main governance challenges and advancements in relation to governance theories to achieve sustainable transitions.


Voß, J.-P. & Kemp, R. (2006) Sustainability and reflexive governance: introduction, in: J.-P. Voß, D. Bauknecht & R. Kemp (Eds) Reflexive Governance for Sustainable Development, pp. 3–28

(Cheltenham: Edward Elgar).


Smith, A., Stirling A, (2007) Moving outside or inside? Objectification and Reflexivity in the governance of socio-technical systems, Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, 9:3-4, 351-373Voβ, J-P., Smith, A. And J. Grin (2009) Designing long-term policy: re-thinking transition management Policy Sciences 42, 4: 275-302


Smith, A. and A.Stirling (2010) The politics of social-ecological resilience and sustainable socio-technical transitions Ecology & Society 15, 1: online


Smith, A. and F. Kern (2009) The transitions storyline in Dutch environmental policy Environmental Politics, 18, 1: 78-98


Lissandrello, E. and Sterrenberg, L. (forthcoming) Transitions in Dutch Politics of Planning


Smith, A., Stirling, A., and Berkhout, F., 2005, ‘The governance of sustainable socio-technical transitions’, Research Policy, 34(10)


Kemp, R., Rotmans, J. and Loorbach, D., 2007, 'Assessing the Dutch energy transition policy: How does it deal with dilemmas of managing transitions?', Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning, 9(3-4)


Loorbach, D. (2010), “Transition Management for Sustainable Development: A Prescriptive, Complexity-Based Governance Framework”, Governance, 23(1)161–183


Shove, E. and Walker, G., 2007, 'CAUTION! Transitions ahead: Politics, practice and sustainable transition management', Environment and Planning A, 39(4), 763-770


Smith, A. and F. Kern (2009), The transitions storyline in Dutch environmental policy Environmental  politics, 18(1), 78-98


Meadowcroft, J., 2011, ‘Engaging with the politics of sustainability transitions’, Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, 1(1)