Toward a spatial perspective on sustainability transitions

Lars Coenen, Paul Benneworth, Bernhard Truffer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

769 Citations (Scopus)
145 Downloads (Pure)


In the past decade, the literature on transitions toward sustainable socio-technical systems has made a considerable contribution in understanding the complex and multi-dimensional shifts considered necessary to adapt societies and economies to sustainable modes of production and consumption. However, transition analyses have often neglected where transitions take place, and the spatial configurations and dynamics of the networks within which transitions evolve. A more explicit spatial perspective on sustainability transitions contributes to the extant transitions literature in three ways. Firstly it provides a contextualization on the limited territorial sensitivity of existing literature. Secondly, it explicitly acknowledges and investigates diversity in transition processes, which follows from a ‘natural’ variety in institutional conditions, networks, actor strategies and resources across space. Thirdly, it encompasses not only greater emphasis but also an opportunity to connect to a body of literature geared to understanding the international, trans-local nature of transition dynamics. Concerned with the prevalent lack of attention for the spatial dimensions of sustainability transitions in most studies, this paper seeks to unpick and make explicit sustainability transition geographies from the vantage point of economic geography. The paper argues that there are two interrelated problems requiring attention: the institutional embeddedness of socio-technical development processes within specific territorial spaces, and an explicit multi-scalar conception of socio-technical trajectories. Following these arguments, the paper concludes that transitions research would do well to take a closer look at the geographical unevenness of transition processes from the perspective of global networks and local nodes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)968-979
JournalResearch policy
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • METIS-285753
  • IR-83211


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