Lewin's field theory as a lens for understanding incumbent actors’ agency in sustainability transitions

Barbara Kump*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
76 Downloads (Pure)


Understanding incumbent actors’ behavior is one of the current key targets in sustainability transitions research. Scholars studying incumbents’ agency have demanded the inclusion of broader social-science theories that bridge different levels (i.e., individual, group) and enable the inclusion of a multitude of actors’ drivers and motives into one coherent framework. The present article suggests that Kurt Lewin's field theory, an influential theory of social and organizational change, may be suited for this purpose. From the perspective of field theory, actors are exposed to various partially conflicting ‘field forces’ (e.g., related to needs, expectations, or roles). The relative strength of these forces determines actors’ decisions and behavior. The paper introduces key concepts of Lewin's field theory and reinterprets incumbents’ responses to sustainability transitions from a field-theoretical perspective. It elaborates on potential theoretical and methodical benefits of Lewin's field theory for studying incumbents’ agency and closes with a discussion of practical implications.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100683
JournalEnvironmental innovation and societal transitions
Early online date23 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2023


  • Lewin's field theory
  • Incumbents
  • Mainstream actors
  • Agency
  • Sustainability Transitions
  • UT-Hybrid-D

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