Lock-In, Fixation and the Extinction of Technologies A Design-Theoretic View of Sustainable Transitions

Chris McMahon*, Eswaran Subrahmanian, Yoram Reich

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

This viewpoint article discusses the challenges in achieving sustainability transitions from the perspective of theories of design and of technology. It first introduces the environmental issues that face industrial civilisation, noting the differences in viewpoint concerning whether planetary limits are largely insurmountable or may be alleviated through human ingenuity. It then gives an overview of theoretical perspectives on the nature of technology and of technological change and innovation before discussing the implications of these theoretical perspectives for possible approaches to sustainability transition. The importance of the maturity of technologies and the challenges of increasing technological complexity are noted in particular. Theoretical perspectives on the nature of design are then introduced, before discussing the implications of these, especially the knowledge requirements in identifying feasible transition steps, and the inherent conflict between different viewpoints on planetary limits. The risk of fixation and the importance of trade-off are emphasised. A five-fold set of actions is proposed, based on the problem being addressed and the social and institutional context that applies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)415-430
Number of pages16
JournalShe Ji
Volume8
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2022

Keywords

  • Design theory
  • sustainable transitions
  • theory of technology

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