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Towards a theory of endings in innovation studies


Because innovations are important to achieve sustainable development, substantial investments have been made in innovation research. Yet, innovations often prove insufficient for replacing established production and consumption practices. In ENDINGS, I argue that we need to overcome this innovation bias by studying how existing socio-technical systems and their respective knowledge bases end – or not. In fact, evidence suggests that it is more likely for existing systems to endure than to disappear. Still, we have a rather limited understanding of how decline and de-institutionalization unfold. This is an important research gap in several disciplines that needs to be addressed to tackle the transformations needed to achieve a more sustainable society. Combining theoretical insights from innovation and organization studies in a novel way, I will study the epistemic motors of industries by developing an analytical framework that 1) introduces a knowledge-based conceptualization of socio-technical systems; 2) differentiates between different kinds of knowledge and their prevalence in certain industries; 3) specifies the ways in which knowledge is maintained and reproduced; 4) identifies the mechanisms that lead to the erosion and extinction of knowledge; 5) substantiates endings as a precondition for innovation and systemic change. To apply this framework, I will re-formulate the method of ‘innovation biographies’ by adding the phases of erosion and extinction to the knowledge life cycle and pioneer its application in comparative cross-case analyses of three industries (energy, ICT, craft) in three geographical contexts (Germany, UK, Sweden). Based on the findings, I will formulate an original, interdisciplinary theory of endings that understands innovation as only one part of the knowledge life cycle. Such a novel perspective will open new research avenues for empirical analysis that will significantly advance research on innovation and sustainability transitions.


Net EU contribution
€ 1 482 076,00
Paradisgatan 5c
22100 Lund

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Södra Sverige Sydsverige Skåne län
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00