3S WP 2014-26 Chilvers and Longhurst – Co-production and emergence of diverse public engagements in energy transitions

The field of sustainability transitions research has a strong theoretical emphasis on the sites and modes of intervention in socio‐technical systems, with the intention of informing the purposive ‘steering’ of the system. For critics, questions of power and politics are often obscured in what, it is argued, are optimistic and technocratic transition mechanisms. In addition, the dynamics of participation in and the democratic implications of transitions processes have been underexplored in the literature hitherto. In order to address this lacuna, this paper develops a more comprehensive and systemic perspective on what it means to participate in socio-­technical transitions, with specific reference to sustainable energy transitions in the UK. For the first time, we bring the transitions literature into a systematic and sustained conversation with constructivist STS perspectives on participation to offer a conception of public and civil society engagement in sustainability transitions as emergent, co­‐produced and interconnected collectives of participation. Our comparative analysis of four diverse cases of civil society involvement in low carbon energy transitions – ranging from government‐led deliberative consultations and behaviour change interventions to forms of activism and distributed innovation -­ highlights similarities and differences in how these participatory collectives are orchestrated, mediated and subject to exclusions as well as their effects in producing particular visions of the issue at stake and implicit models of participation and ‘the public’. In conclusion we reflect on the value of this approach for opening up the politics of civil society engagement in transitions, building systemic perspectives of interconnected ecologies of participation, and better accounting for the inherent uncertainties and indeterminacies of all forms of participation in transitions.

Chilvers, J. and Longhurst, N. (2014) Co-­production and emergence of diverse public engagements in energy transitions: towards relational, symmetrical and systemic understandings of participation. 3S Working Paper 2014­‐26. Norwich: Science, Society and Sustainability Research Group.

3S WP 2014-26